Despite three days of regular ups and downs on the leaderboard of the 2023 Hero Indian Open, Yannik Paul has made the top position his own, and never let it slip. He has shot 65, 69, and 71 to take him to 11 under par.
On Saturday, however, the five-stroke lead he had made for himself by the second round was cut to one, as his countryman Marcel Siem shot 67 in his third round to take his total score to 10 under par.
The fact that, historically, one of the top-3 tends to emerge as the winner whenever the Indian Open has been held at the DLF Club in Gurugram, makes it look like the stage is set for a final-round shootout between the two Germans on Sunday.
The final group tomorrow 🇩🇪#HIO2023 | @YannikPaul | @SiemMarcel pic.twitter.com/CDw3ysTXno
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) February 25, 2023
The duo arrived in Gurugram in polar opposite stages of their career. At 28, Paul seems to be coming into his own as a European Tour regular, after gaining the much-needed confidence that comes with a first Tour-level title in Mallorca in October last year.
He was one of the players to watch here after coming into the event right after his second-place finish at the Thailand Classic last week, and lived up to the billing after surging to the top of the leaderboard on Thursday with a blitz of four successive birdies on the final four holes. Since then, his efforts have been about keeping his place at the top, no small feat on the challenging Gary Player Course at the DLF Club.
“There are definitely easier courses out there,” Paul told the media on Saturday. “There is no room for error here. But that’s a challenge for everyone.”
Siem is in a different phase. He won his first European Tour (now DP World Tour) title in his twenties back in 2004, and had won three more between 2012 and 2014. Now in his forties, the trophies have dried up, and so have the sponsorships and the standard of living he cultivated in his younger days.
The 42-year-old was humbled when he had to spend the last few years on the lower-rung Challenge Tour, having to come to terms with the fact that his level had dipped. “It would mean a lot to me to win here, it would be a life-changer for sure,” he said. “Been nine years since the last one… so I have had to reinvent myself to get here.”
Siem is enjoying life in India, having played many times in the country before. The adulation – as evidenced by one of the loudest cheers when he landed a tough birdie putt on the 18th hole – is relatively new.
“It’s always great playing in India,” he said before adding some nice words about the course, an oddity to be heard from a competing player. “It’s so tough, it feels like a Major. I know some people say it’s too crazy here, but that’s the challenge.”
The different stages of their career are evident in the approach they chose to adopt at the back nine on Sunday. Siem, admittedly feeling some nerves at the prospect of a win here, chose to play it safe. “You can’t win a tournament on a Saturday, you can only lose,” he said.
Paul was more aggressive, playing with the confidence of a man leading the tournament all week. He backed his short game and wedging by doing his best to make it to the green as quickly as possible to steal a couple of birdies. He says bogeys are inevitable on this course, and that should not stop you from going for your shots.
Paul may have been having a near-perfect week on the course, but he is still reeling from the disappointment of watching his favourite football team, Eintracht Frankfurt, lose their Champions League encounter to Napoli on Tuesday. Football, he says, was his first love, and his twin brother Jeremy, also a professional golfer, played at junior level before picking up golf.
Both Paul and Siem are aware that a German win is not a foregone conclusion, given how quickly fortunes change on this course. Dutchman Joost Luiten is right on their tails with a score of eight-under, who would be in the title conversation if not for back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th. Last week’s Thailand Classic winner Thorbjorn Olesen came back from a disappointing start to shoot a day’s best of six under par to go joint-fourth. He will be fancying his chances if those above him begin dropping shots.
Indians falling away
After a couple of promising starts for the Indian contingent here, there are not that many with a shot at the title coming to the final round. Good rounds are quickly nullified by a few mistakes on a ruthless course, and that has been the case for Honey Baisoya and Angad Cheema, who have managed to stay in the top 10 despite both hitting one over on Saturday.
Shubhankar Sharma, the highest-ranked Indian here, lost his four-under first-round advantage with successive two-over finishes.
It was Veer Ahlawat’s turn to be the flagbearer on Saturday, shooting a 68 to finish four under on the day, and five under overall to go joint-fourth as the highest-placed Indian ahead of the final round.