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BEST FRIENDS LAHIRI AND CHIKKARANGAPPA SET UP INTRIGUING FINAL DAY DUEL AT THE VENETIAN MACAO OPEN

Close friends India’s Anirban Lahiri and Chikkarangappa S. set up a mouth-watering final day shootout after edging one shot ahead of the chasing pack at The Venetian Macao Open on Saturday.

Lahiri, the reigning Asian Tour number one, and Chikkarangappa carded matching two under par 69s in the third round at the Macau Golf and Country Club to jointly lead the US$1.1 million Asian Tour tournament on 10 under par 203.

Thai trio Rattanon Wannasrichan (65), Pavit Tangkamolprasert (68), Sutijet Kooratanapisan (70), Spaniard Carlos Pigem (69) and India’s Rashid Khan (66) are only a stroke back, while another Thai, Chapchai Nirat, battled to a 69 to lie two off the pace.

England’s Ian Poulter fought to a level par 71, leaving himself five shots back and with an outside chance for a win in his first tournament in four months following a foot injury.

All eyes, however, will be on Lahiri and Chikkarangappa, who grew up together in Bangalore. Six years older, Lahiri, 29, has already achieved immense success with seven Asian Tour wins, and now plies his trade mainly in the United States, while Chikkarangappa is still bidding for a maiden Asian Tour title.

“It’ll be tough. Chikka is a fierce competitor, I know it. It’ll be good to battle it out with him. But it’s not just me and him as there are so many guys in it. Anybody who shoots 63 or 64 has a chance to win. You can’t rule anyone out,” said Lahiri, winner of Tthe Venetian Macao Open in 2014 and runner-up in 2013 and last year.

“It’ll be serious business [(with Chikkarangappa Chikka) ] but we care very deeply for each other. There’s no doubt neither of us would like the other person to win unless the person himself doesn’t win. If it’s not me, I would like for him to win but I definitely like to win myself more than him and that’s the same for him.”

In-form Chikkarangappa, who has enjoyed two top-10s in as many weeks, overcame a double bogey on 11 with three birdies to keep himself in the title hunt against his mentor.

“We’re brothers,” said the 23-year-old Chikka, whose best finish on the Asian Tour to date was tied fourth in Bangladesh earlier this year. “Anirban moved from Hyderabad to Bangalore and I’m the village boy and he didn’t know the local language. and we became friends. I would help him to buy groceries and we would practice together and kept motivating each other.

“He inspires me … makes me to try and follow in his footsteps. He always challenges me to do better than him. It’ll be a dream to play with Anirban. It’s been a long time since we last played competitive golf together. We’ll have a blast.”

Meanwhile Rattanon, 21, produced the day’s best of 65 with one eagle and six birdies. Like Chikkarangappa, he is also chasing a first win on the Asian Tour and was inspired when his regular Tour roommate Poom Saksansin broke through in Indonesia last weekend.

“I will try to win like him (Poom). He is encouraging me and says that I can win too,” said Rattanon, who is also baby-faced, like Poom. “I hit my driver good today and it helped. I wasn’t putting well before but now it’s okay. I just keep telling myself in my mind that I can hole the putts.”

Big-hitting Pavit, the 2014 Asian Development Tour number one, is also eager to break through, while also honouring the late king of Thailand, King Bhumibol, who died on Thursday night.

I won’t think of winning much. When I won on the Asian Development Tour [(five times), ], I never thought about winning. I think the experience helps a bit. I think the king is helping us. It’ll be good for the Thai players to win for him. It’ll be an honour,” said the 27-year-old.

After a triple bogey on 10, former Ryder Cup star Poulter gallantly fought back with three birdies but was kicking himself for missing a closing birdie on the last hole, a par five. He is not counting himself out of the title race, especially after an opening 64 on Thursday.

“A bit of frustration, more than anything else. The dream start on Thursday didn’t feel great yesterday and I didn’t get off to the best of starts today. A poor tee short on 10 was very costly. Looking at the leaderboard now, it’s really annoying,” he said.

“I’ll sleep on it, probably have a chat with myself in my room and obviously see if I can reset and come out and play some of the golf that I did on Thursday and hole some putts.”

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