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Birdie-birdie finish turns around Shubhankar Sharma’s day in Turkey

Joy Chakravarty

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shubhankar sharma
Shubhankar Sharma in action on the first day.

Antalya: Shubhankar Sharma struggled from the tee throughout the opening day of the $7 million Turkish Airlines Open, but successive birdies on the closing two holes of Montgomerie Maxx Royal course gave him a respectable one-under par 71 finish to be in tied 37th place.

The round was a collection of good, bad and some ugly for the 23-year-old from Chandigarh, who needs to finish around the 30th place to earn his place in next week’s Nedbank Challenge, the penultimate event of 2018-19 season of the European Tour.

It is of paramount importance that he makes it there in order to qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (open only to the top-50 players).

Sharma scripted a miraculous par save during the round, when he had to go down on his knees and hit a recovery shot from a heap of pine straws on the 12th hole, and played the par-5 18th to perfection with two stunning shots into the green before making a two-putt birdie.

There was also an errant tee shot with the driver on the third hole that got punished badly when he leaked it way right into the bushes and had to take an unplayable for a double bogey.

“It was quite tough out there for me to be honest. I was struggling on every shot. I was struggling to find my rhythm and wasn’t very sure where my ball position was. I missed a lot of fairways, so this 71 actually feels like a 67 to me right now after the way I played,” said Sharma, who is currently ranked 81st in the Race to Dubai.

“I am very happy that I am still in it and just hoping to fix everything at the range now so that I can make a charge over the next three days.”

The birdie-birdie finish definitely put a smile back on the face of Sharma’s face.

“I had birdie opportunities on every hole from the 14th onwards. I missed two putts from eight feet and then hit a bad putt on the 15th hole,” he added.

“I just felt that my game was coming back towards the end and it was good to finally get two birdies on the last two holes.”

Sharma was six shots behind the leaders at seven-under par 65 – England’s Tom Lewis, who birdied six of his last seven holes, and Austria’s rising star Mathias Schwab.

Two-time Rolex Series champion, Sweden’s Alex Noren, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and American David Lipsky started with rounds of 66 each to be tied third.

Two-time defending champion Justin Rose also scripted a rousing finish, turning an average round into a superb five-under par 67 with a hat-trick of birdies from the 16th onwards. He was joined at tied sixth place by the reigning BMW PGA champion Danny Willett of England, Netherland’s Joost Luiten, Belgium’s Thomas Detry, Scot Scott Jamieson and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert.

Rose said he was delighted with his score, especially after the way he hit the ball during the pro-am on Wednesday.

“I guess job done. The hot finish was exactly what we needed. I was aware of the leaderboard. Obviously, it was a perfect day to play golf as it normally is here in Turkey and I could see the lads got in low.

“Our group was having some frustrations, just trying to make birdies…certainly make the putts. As the sun got low, you could kind of see what you’re facing and it’s difficult to sort of trust your reads coming in. I managed to wiggle in there the last few holes, so delighted with the score.

“It’s a hundred percent improvement from yesterday. I was happy I got off to a good start today and I felt positive that I was actually swinging the club much better. I feel like I’m not exactly where I need to be, but I did a good job switching from range to scoring today.”

Sharma is paired with French Open champion Nicolas Colsaerts and Frenchman Christian Bezuidenhout for the second round on Friday and tees off at 1035 local time (1305 IST).

Find more columns from our sports columnist at Joy Chakravarty.

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Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) has been closely involved with Indian golf over the past two decades and is considered one of the leading golf journalists in Asia. He has covered 18 major championships and more than 100 events on various Tours. He was the first journalist from Asia to be inducted into Association of Golf Writers. A seasoned media manager, Joy is currently responsible for media outreach for various golf tournaments organised by the R&A, Augusta National Golf Club and the MENA Tour. When away from the course, Joy is passionate about increasing awareness and raising the profile of Asian players through various media platforms.