Gurgaon: He can hit the low numbers almost at will as he showed in two European Tour wins, but Shubhankar Sharma is equally able to stick it out when the chips are down.
With almost every golfer in the field seemingly going backwards on the DLF Golf and Country Club’s Black Knight course, Sharma rode out a few blips to bring in an even par card and a share of the lead at seven under par 209 on the penultimate day of the for $1.75 Hero 54th Indian Open here on Saturday.
While overnight leader Emiliano Grillo endured a nightmare back nine to fall away from the top of the pack with a six over par 78, Sharma rode out three bogeys and a double to make sure he was level with Englishman Matt Wallace going into the final day. Stephen Gallacher (67) of Scotland was one shot behind at 208 in third with the day’s best round of five under par 67.
Grillo and England’s Andrew Johnston (73) were tied fourth along with Austrian Matthias Schwab, who scored flawless 68, while Sihwan Kim of the US and Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal were tied seventh on four under 212s. In what must rank as a disappointment for home fans, only eight Indians made the cut on the lengthened — and testing — course at their national Open, and of those that survived, seven — including 2015 winner Anirban Lahiri (T32, 75) — went over par as conditions continued to test resolve, ability and skill.
As he had done on Friday, Sharma recovered quickly from his double bogeyed 17th where his approach shot ricocheted off a bunker wall and into the rough and he two-putted. On the par-5 18th, the 21-year-old from Chandigarh blasted his drive to the edge of the fairway and went over water to hit the green edge in two.
A neat chip and nerveless putt helped him pull one shot back, and on level terms with Wallace who was in the group immediately ahead.
Sharma (73, 64, 72), European and Asian Tour order of merit leader, said of his round, “The course played really tough and I’m very happy with a 72. It was a mixed bag as everything happened. I holed out at the second, made a few good birdies and got a bad bounce on the 17th. I’m very pleased with the birdie at the last, which allowed me to grab a share of the lead. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“You can’t overpower this course. So, I told myself, just hang in there. I will hit a few bad shots and I understand that it’s all part of the game. You just have to stay patient.”
Sharma is now in line to become the 10th Indian to win the national Open and the fourth in a row after Lahiri and S.S.P. Chawrasia (2016, 2017).
Ajeetesh Sandhu (74) was the next best Indian after Shubhankar on T26 at two-over-218. Jyoti Randhawa (76) and Lahiri (75) were both T32, Khalin Joshi was T37 at five-over-221, amateur Kshitij Naveed Kaul and Karandeep Kochhar were T48 at seven-over-223 while Udayan Mane was T56 at 10-over-226.