India’s Shubhankar Sharma in title hunt at Joburg Open
Joburg, South Africa, December 8: A red-hot Shubhankar Sharma of India fired his career’s low round of 10-under-par 61 to charge into contention at the halfway stage of the Joburg Open on Friday.
The 21-year-old Shubhankar, who is sponsored by Take Solutions, DLF Golf & Country Club and Indorama Ventures Plc., is searching for a first Asian Tour win. He fired 10 birdies at the Randpark Golf Club, par-71 Bushwillow course, to trail the leader Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland by one-shot at the R16.5 million (approximately US$1.2 million) event sanctioned by the Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour and European Tour.
“It was great. I couldn’t have done better. I made pretty much everything I looked at. I hit the ball pretty decent and made a few key up and downs. I couldn’t have asked for a better round. When I shot three-under yesterday, I went home and slept and when I woke up, so many guys were under-par! I wasn’t relaxed with a three-under-par and I really wanted to make birdies in my round. As soon as I was four-under after six, I was relaxed because I’m playing well,” said Shubhankar.
“On 17, I hit a good shot. I tried to hit a hard drive to get on the green in two but I pulled it a little bit. I told my caddy we can still make a birdie with a wedge and hit it to about four feet. That was a good birdie.
“Bushwillow is obviously shorter than Firethorn but it is narrow. You have to be really straight off the tee if you want to attack the greens. I’m glad I came here. I’m really happy to be in the situation which I’m in.
“It is great to have a tri-sanctioned event. It is great for the Asian players like me to come out here. It is my first time in South Africa and the courses are great. We are all looking forward to more of such events in the future.
“It is every golfer’s dream to play in The Open but at the same time, I don’t really want to think too much about it. It is only halfway through. I want to keep my head down and keep playing. To win is a big thing and whatever comes with it is a bonus.”
The flamboyant Pulkkanen, who stood out with his fedora hat in the 240-man field, birdied his opening six holes to finish with a solid 64 at the par-72 Firethorn course for a two-day total of 14-under-par 129.
“I started really well. Six birdies in a row – that was an awesome start. I had some tough times midway but I managed to get good pars and a couple of birdies on the back nine. Solid round. I birdied five of those in the practice round so it was a similar feeling. It was a fantastic feeling. I tried to have a new start on the back nine. I made myself feel like I was level par and tried to make more birdies. That was the goal,” said Pulkkanen.
“We (with Erik van Rooyen) had some good battles last year on the Challenge Tour and I’m looking forward to playing against him on the weekend. Yesterday I had a birdie putt on the last hole and I saw that Erik was on the board on seven-under, so I told myself I had to make that birdie putt and I did.
“My driver has been really good. That’s been key for me. The course is perfect, no problem at all. A little bit soft greens but perfect.”
Sharma’s second day effort was the best score after 36 holes. He also established the lowest round on the Asian Tour’s 2017 season but it will not stand as a record as the lift, clean and place rule was in effect.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen produced a 67 to share third place with Mikko Korhonen of Finland. They trail the leader Pulkkanen by two shots in the event which was suspended at 5.24pm due to thunderstorms.
A total of 19 players will return at 7.30am on Saturday to complete their rounds. The projected cut is currently at four-under.
Did you know?
- Sharma returned with a flawless card highlighted by five birdies in each half. It is the best score at the Joburg Open after 36 holes.
- His second day 61 is also the lowest on the Asian Tour and his career’s best. He previously shot a 62 at the 2016 Resorts World Manila Masters.
- After two days, Sharma has only dropped two shots at Firethorn, the course which will stage the final two rounds.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pulkkanen remains bogey-free after two days. He got off to a hot start when he birdied his opening six holes before adding birdies on holes 11 and 12.
- He won last season’s Road to Oman on the Challenge Tour. This is his second European Tour event in the new 2018 season. He missed the cut at the UBS Hong Kong Open two weeks ago.
- Pulkkanen is easily recognisable in the 240-man field for wearing a stylish fedora hat.
- Overnight leader Keenan Davidse of South Africa slipped to a share of 27th place after posting a disappointing 74 at Firethorn.
- Order of Merit leader Gavin Green of Malaysia safely made the cut by shooting a 67 at Bushwillow. He is tied in 27th place and is on track to become the Asian Tour’s number one golfer in 2017.
- The top three players this week who are not already exempt will earn a place at The Open in 2018.