Sunday March 26, 2023

Shabbir clinches CAS Open in style for record 200th career title

January 16, 2023

KARACHI: Back in 1996 at the Rawalpindi Golf Club, Shabbir Iqbal, then an unassuming teenager, stunned several title favourites to win the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Open title, his first ever trophy on the national circuit.

More than 26 years later, on a cool afternoon here at the Airmen Golf Club on Sunday, Shabbir clinched the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Open to complete a stunning milestone, never achieved by any golfer in Pakistan’s history. The CAS Open triumph gave the 45-year-old Shabbir his 200th national title, further consolidating his status not just as Pakistan’s No.1 professional but the country’s most celebrated golfer.

Soon after his impressive win – by a big margin of seven strokes – Shabbir told ‘The News’ that he was now aiming at extending his record to 250 titles.

“Why not,” he responded when asked whether he was aiming to stretch his unprecedented title-winning spree in the coming years.

“I might be 45 but I feel myself at the top of my game. I still have a lot of golf left in me which is why I’m confident of winning more national level tournaments in the future,” said Shabbir, who has been Pakistan’s top-ranked player for the best part of the last quarter of a century.

There have been young challengers like Ahmed Baig, who recently triumphed in the Pakistan Open in Lahore, but Shabbir rues the fact that neither of them has really challenged his supremacy.

“There has been this lack of challenge over the years,” he said. “Yes, there have been some players on the national circuit but neither of them has provided me with any stiff challenge in the long run,” he added.

So, what makes Shabbir head and shoulders above the rest of the pack?

Ask Shabbir and he would just give you a smile.

But he has been far ahead of the field for years and if his showing in the Sunridge 42nd CAS Open is any yardstick then it’s quite clear that Shabbir might be aging but ain’t slowing down.

During the Rs1.1 million championship, while most of the other leading players fell by the wayside, Shabbir played three rounds of 69 to go into the final day with a big six-shot lead.

In the final round, he extended his lead by making birdies on holes 3 and 5. At the turn, there was no doubt left that Shabbir was set for another landslide victory. Muhammad Alam was by then a distant second and seemed content to finish at second spot. Even a double-bogey on the tricky par-4 12th hole couldn’t stop Shabbir from yet another title with an enviable ease.

“I didn’t even hit any water hazard and still made a double bogey on the 12th,” he said.

The Airmen golf course has plenty of such holes. “It’s very easy to make a bogey or double bogey here,” he said. “missing the fairway mostly means losing a stroke,” he pointed out. Shabbir eventually carded 71 to finish at 278 (-10).

Meanwhile, Alam played a round of 72 to take the runner-up trophy with an aggregate of 285 (-3). Hamza Amin and Muhammad Zubair finished at joint third place at 288. In fourth place was the quartet of Ahmed Baig, Shahid Javed Khan, Muhammad Munir and Muhammad Amir ay 289.