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With dream pairing in his favour, Shubhankar hopes to ‘Open’ campaign

Joy Chakravarty

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India's Shubhankar Sharma during a practice round for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Antrim, Northern Ireland: The week of the Open Championship holds a special significance for Shubhankar Sharma. Not only did he make his first cut in a Major in this tournament, but it also coincides with his birthday almost every year.

This year, Sharma will turn 23 on Sunday, the day when the 148th Open Championship is decided at the hallowed Royal Portrush Golf Club. And he expects the celebrations to be even better than last year, when it fell on the Moving Day of the tournament at Carnoustie.

It’s not been the best of seasons for Sharma so far, and completely pales when compared to 2017-18. He won twice on the European Tour, played all four Majors and became the Asia No. 1. In comparison, a tie for 27th place at the Hero Indian Open has been his best result in 2019 so far.

However, Sharma can sense a change in his fortunes. He may have missed the cut at the Irish Open in the run-up to the Open Championship, but he was happy with his ball-striking there. At the Scottish Open, he needed an 18th hole birdie from 45 feet to make the cut on the number before finishing tied 34th.

“I made a few changes in my swing and I can now feel that it is getting in the groove. I was happy with the way I played in Scotland and I have worked hard over my game in the past few weeks. My coach (Jesse Grewal) is here and I am feeling quite confident going into the fifth Major of my career,” said Sharma on the eve of the tournament.

Sharma has been handed a dream pairing—he goes out on the first two days with the reigning World No. 1 Brooks Koepka and the 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

“I was very surprised when I saw the grouping, but I am really looking forward to it. Brooks is obviously the World No. 1 and Louis is a former champion. I have played with Brooks before in India (at the 2013 Challenge Tour event in Kensville, Ahmedabad, where they were paired during the final round),” added the World No. 196.

“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of people following and a lot of people watching back home in India. I think it will very exciting and it is always nice to get a draw like that.”

Sharma, then just 16 and making his professional debut, beat Koepka by three shots that day, but the American has made giant strides since then.

Talking about his upcoming 23rd birthday, Sharma said: “Last year was obviously very special as I made my first cut in a Major. Hopefully, we can make it even more special this year on a Sunday.”

Sharma will tee off at 13:04 local time (17:34 IST) on Thursday. On Friday, he will start at 08:03 local time (13:33 IST).

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Chinese Taipei’s Pan secures historic Presidents Cup ticket

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C.T. Pan became the first golfer from Chinese Taipei to be selected for the prestigious Presidents Cup to be held at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club this December. Photo: PGA Tour/Getty Images

Medinah, Illinois: C.T. Pan wrote a small slice of golfing history after becoming the first golfer from Chinese Taipei to qualify for the Presidents Cup as his PGA Tour FedExCup Playoffs campaign ended at the BMW Championship on Sunday.

The 27-year-old, who enjoyed a maiden PGA Tour win at the RBC Heritage in April, finished T31 after ending the week with a level par 72 at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 Course. He needed to finish 12th or better to advance into the final week of the season where the FedExCup champion will bag US $15 million.

However, Pan safely earned his place amongst the top-8 players for the International Team to face the United States Team at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia this December when qualifying ended on Sunday.

“Yeah, it’s great. I mean obviously I didn’t play well the last couple weeks. I played okay, mediocre but to be able to lock-down this spot (for the Presidents Cup), that means a lot to me. It means I can make sure and plan my schedule to get ready for the Presidents Cup,” he said.

Apart from his breakthrough victory, Pan enjoyed six top-25s to end the season in 37th place  on the FedExCup points list. He was determined to make it to the Tour Championship after also missing out on the top-30 spots by a few rungs last season.

“It’s been great year, I would say. I won, achieved my dream to win a PGA Tour event and played well and got a spot on the Presidents Cup team. That means a lot to me. It’s very special year for me. But, you know, looking at my stats and my goals, I still have things I need to work on. I want to make sure I get better every day,” said Pan.

He will take a short break and start planning his schedule for the new 2019-20  PGA Tour Season which begins in September. He said he would take into consideration the Presidents Cup and ensure he is battle-ready to help the International Team wrest the trophy from the United States team.

“I was deciding whether to come back to the U.S. after the three events in Asia to get ready here in U.S. Now, with the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, I kind of want to stay in the same time zone, make sure my body will adjust to it,” said Pan.

“It will be wild. We will have a lot of fans to cheer for us, I’m sure. My family for sure, friends, too.”

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Rookie Gauri Karhade wins maiden pro title in sixth attempt

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Gauri Karhade in action during final round

Hyderabad: Rookie Gauri Karhade playing only her sixth event as a pro on the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour, stunned the front runners, amateur Shreya Pal, and the seasoned Gaurika Bishnoi, to land her first title on the circuit. She stayed calm and held her nerve to shoot a final round of 73 for a total of two-under 214 and win the 12th Leg by one shot over Gaurika Bishnoi (75) and Afshan Fatima (70).

Afshan Fatima, who made a great charge on the front nine with a two-under 34, held the lead midway through the back nine but dropped crucial back-to-back bogeys on 15th and 16th to fall into a tie for second with Gaurika at one-under 215.

Playing the final group, overnight leader, Shreya Pal began with a flourish on the first with a birdie. But she dropped three bogeys in the next four holes. Gauri, starting the final day two behind leader Shreya and one behind Gaurika, was steady and she parred the first five holes, as Gaurika also dropped a shot on second.

Then it was Gauri’s turn to make a mistake with a double bogey on sixth, but Gaurika dropped a bogey on seventh and Shreya dropped a double bogey. That opened the door for Gauri. Meanwhile, Afshan was making a charge with three birdies against one bogey on the front nine.

After nine holes, it was still a very tight battle. Gaurika, who was four-under for two rounds, was still two-under after 45 holes. Four players, Shreya, Afshan, Gauri and Ananya Datar were at one-under after the front nine.

On the back nine, Gauri and Afshan found birdies on 11th and Gaurika bogeyed to let Gauri and Afshan move into the lead with the two-shot swing. Gauri dropped a shot on 12th to fall back and Afshan was sole leader.

Gauri and Afshan both birdied the 14th at which stage Afshan was ahead at three-under and Gauri was two-under. Gaurika stayed at one-under. Shreya, now five-over for the day after a bogey on 12th, fell back to even par.

Then it was Afshan’s turn to make mistakes and she made two in a row on 15th and 16th that allowed Gauri to sneak ahead. She only had to stay calm and get her pars. She did just that. None of the three, including Gaurika, made birdies on the last two holes, leaving Gauri as the victor.

Gaurika, unable to find birdies the whole day, ended Tied-second with Afshan, who after a great 14 holes made crucial errors to throw away a chance.

Gauri, who started playing at the age of 10 and learnt her early lessons in Thane and Kharghar, has honed her skills at the Poona Golf Club and now resides in Mumbai.

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Korn Ferry finals: Ace golfer Anirban Lahiri gets positive start

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Lahiri had a rough start as he started from 10th and bogeyed 11th and 14th to go two-over.

Columbus: Indian ace golfer Anirban Lahiri started his campaign on a positive note, he shot four-under 67 to be placed at tied-fifth in the first round of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship here. The tournament is the first one in the series of three-event Korn Ferry finals.

The 32-year-old PGA Tour golfer was down by two strokes when he began his round with bogeys at the 11th and 14th holes. But the resilient Indian fought back with six birdies, including back to back birdies to finish the round. He had five birdies in a brilliant second nine, after starting the day at the 10th tee.

“I got off to a bad start but played good as things went on. I dropped a shot on 11th and then hit a bad drive but I started getting more comfortable later on. The greens were slower than what I have played in recent months. But then I was getting more comfortable with the surfaces as things went on,” Lahiri said.

Conversely, another Indian contender Shubhankar Sharma conceded a double bogey on the first hole and battled his way to a 75 that left him outside the top 100.

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