India’s Shubhankar Sharma races five shots clear at Joburg Open
Joburg, South Africa, December 9: Shubhankar Sharma of India continued his blistering form by shooting a third round seven-under-par 65 to take a five-shot lead at the Joburg Open on Saturday.
Shubhankar, who is sponsored by Take Solutions, DLF Golf & Country Club and Indorama Ventures Plc., birdied four in a row from the second hole before adding three birdies to surge to the top of the leaderboard on a 20-under-par 195 total at the R16.5 million (approximately US$1.2 million) event sanctioned by the Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour and European Tour.
After shooting a second round 61, the talented Shubhankar maintained his hot streak to put himself in prime position to secure a first Asian Tour victory at the Randpark Golf Club, Firethorn course.
Sharma holds a fairly dominant lead over his closest challenger Christofer Blomstrand of Sweden, who registered a sparkling 62 on his 26th birthday. James Morrison of England and Erik Van Rooyen of South Africa were a further six shots back of the lead following rounds of 67 and 70 respectively.
“I’m really happy. I wanted to play even though I shot a 10-under yesterday and it is always difficult to follow up on a low round. I’m really proud with the way I played today,” said Shubhankar.
“The way I read the lines on the greens were pretty good. I got off to a fast start and that’s very important if you want to go low. My putting has been really good and I hope it continues. I made birdie on hole two with a good up-and-down from the left rough. On the third, I hit a really good approach shot which spun to about five or six feet. On the par-five fourth hole, I hit two solid shots and almost made the eagle putt. On the par-three fifth hole, I hit a six-iron to four feet.
“The wind kept swirling. The direction switched a few times in the round. You got to be really committed before you hit the shot. I’m very pleased that I came to the Joburg Open. I had my visa but it has been a very long season so I was contemplating if I wanted to come here. I’m really happy that I did!
“I want to stay within myself and play against my course. I have a good lead but you saw some low scores today. Anyone can shoot a seven or eight-under-par. I need to stay calm and hit the right shots.
“I don’t want to change my strategy because I’ve played solid golf. There’s nothing much to change. You can’t play it safe because everything is in front of you. I’m going to be aggressive and won’t hit any stupid shots.
The talented Indian will enter the final 18 holes as the leader for the first time in his career as he set his sights on the Joburg Open title and one of the three tickets available to The Open in 2018.
Sharma played solidly from tee-to-green and was rarely in trouble except on the par-four 18th hole when his approach shot landed in the greenside bunker. He stayed bogey-free when he superbly hit it out of the sand trap for a close-range par putt.
“It’s a really nice birthday present! I had a 45-foot putt on the first which was bumping around, and then it started rolling quite nicely after that. My first eagle was on hole four. I hit quite a good drive and then I hit a three-wood from 260 a bit left of the pin, and then it was straight in. I was quite happy for that. On 14, I hit a good drive as well. Then I had 245 to the pin and I hit three-wood into the wind. It was a good strike to 25 feet maybe,” said Blomstrand.
“I was really happy with my putter. I was hitting quite good shots in the beginning of my round, and then I holed them as well. It was a good start and I just tried to keep going from there. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s really going to be fun. This is what I play for.
“My Sunshine Tour win (Zambia Sugar Open, 2016, Lusaka) was absolutely important in getting me here. After I won there, I tried to figure out what my schedule was going to be and then I understood that I was going to get into these events on the European Tour. So I played a few events down here, and then I played on the Challenge Tour, and then I got my European Tour card at Qualifying School.
“Of-course it means a lot that there are Open Championship spots available here. But we have to treat this like a normal event. We need to play well for all four rounds, and then we can see what else is happening.
Did you know?
- Sharma is bogey-free in his last 36 holes. He made three bogeys in the opening round but since then, he has kept a clean card.
- Sharma has never led heading into the final round. His five-shot lead is also the largest advantage after 54 holes on the Asian Tour in 2017
- His 20-under-par total is the second lowest on the Asian Tour this year, one shot shy of Pat Perez’s three day effort at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in October.
- Sharma has not won on the Asian Tour before but he is now in the running to become the first Asian to win the Joburg Open. This is also his first appearance in South Africa.
- He admits that he almost pulled out from the Joburg Open to take a much needed break before finally deciding to play in the prestigious tournament.
- Sharma shot a second round 61 which is the lowest on the Asian Tour in 2017 and his career’s best.
- Ranked 22nd on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, Sharma has enjoyed a great season so far highlighted by four top-10s and one tied fourth finish at the Bashundhara Bangladesh Open in February.
- Blomstrand was on a 59 watch when he was 11-under through 14 holes. He returned with three pars and a closing bogey to finish on a 62. He eagled the par-five four and 14th holes to charge into contention.
- The Swede made a huge move from 36th place to second position on a day where he celebrated his 26th birthday.
- Blomstrand has one win on the Sunshine Tour. The victory came at the 2016 Zambia Sugar Open.
Leading third round scores:
195 – Shubhankar SHARMA (IND) 69 61 65
200 – Christopher BLOMSTRAND (SWE) 70 68 62
201 – James MORRISON (ENG) 64 70 67, Erik VAN ROOYEN (RSA) 64 67 70
202 – Marcus ARMITAGE (ENG) 69 66 67, Tapio PULKKANEN (FIN) 65 64 73
204 – Ross MCGOWAN (ENG) 66 72 66, Christiaan BEZUIDENHOUT (RSA) 69 69 66, Oliver BEKKER (RSA) 66 70 68, Steven BROWN (ENG) 68 65 71, Joachim B. HANSEN (DEN) 66 67 71
205 – Hennie OTTO (RSA) 70 68 67, Daniel GREENE (RSA) 70 68 67, Matt WALLACE (ENG) 73 65 67, Shaun NORRIS (RSA) 69 68 68, Jinho CHOI (KOR) 69 66 70, Kristian Krogh JOHANNESSEN (NOR) 70 65 70, Haydn PORTEOUS (RSA) 69 70 66, Charlie FORD (ENG) 70 64 71
206 – Hennie DU PLESSIS (RSA) 71 67 68, Paul PETERSON (USA) 70 67 69, Nathan KIMSEY (ENG) 65 71 70, Mikko KORHONEN (FIN) 66 65 75