Antalya: Shubhankar Sharma will remember this week in Turkey for a long, long time. Playing his last 29 holes in the tournament to a sensational 13-under par, the Indian ace clinched an unforgettable top-10 place in the Turkish Airlines Open.
At the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course, Sharma had slipped to five-under par for the tournament mid-way through his third round on Saturday after going double bogey-bogey-double bogey in a stretch on the stretch of fifth to seventh holes. All this while, he also had the gun of making sure he qualified for next week’s Nedbank Challenge placed against his head.
It was on the ninth tee yesterday that his caddie Dean Smith whispered in his ears: “You’ve got another 27 holes to play. Let’s re-focus and make some birdies.”
Sharma responded in spectacular fashion. The birdie-machine made 12 birdies and an eagle after that. Having set himself a goal of reaching 16-under par after his first-round 71, he surpassed his own marker by two shots and finished on 18-under par 270, which was good enough for tied seventh place and jump to 61st position in the Race to Dubai. The top-60 qualify for Sun City next week, but that number has gone down to 76 to fill the field.
There was a six-way play-off to decide the champion after Kurt Kitayama (64), Erik van Rooyen (65), Victor Perez (65), Benjamin Hebert (67), Tyrrell Hatton (67) and overnight leader Matthias Schwab (70) tied at 20-under par.
Kitayama, Hatton and Schwab made birdies on the first extra hole to prolong the search for a champion. It was finally decided on the fourth hole when Schwab made a bogey to Hatton’s par.
Congratulations @TyrrellHatton! 🏆
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 10, 2019
“I am really happy with the way I played. I knew I had to shoot a low one today to get into Nedbank, and I am proud of the way I responded,” said Sharma.
“The game was always there, but I was making a few mistakes and the one thing I desperately wanted to do today was not to make a bogey, especially on that stretch from the fifth to seventh holes. I managed to do that.
“In hindsight, those three holes on Saturday were crucial. It really fired me up. I had to dig very deep and find something after that. If I did not have that, I probably would not have finished the way I did finally.”
It was a quiet start for Sharma on Sunday, who could not convert short birdie putts on the par-5 first and the par-4 third. But a chipped-in eagle on the par-5 fourth, where he holed out from 35 yards, kickstarted his charge.
After going through the fifth to seventh holes in par, albeit missing birdie chances on the sixth and seventh, Sharma birdied the next four holes to surge up the leaderboard. He then picked up shots on the 15th, and most crucially on the 18th to finish alongside Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre.
It was a second straight top-10 for him in Rolex Series events, having finished tied seventh in the Italian Open last October.
“Making it to Dubai (for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship for which only the top-50 players from Race to Dubai qualify) has been one of my goals this year, but I did not have a great season and was 113th in the standings before the Italian Open,” added the 23-year-old from Chandigarh, who won the Joburg Open in 2017 and cherishing a return to South Africa.
“So, to have that pressure all this time and how I have handled it so far, makes me very proud. I love playing in South Africa, where I have won in the past and everything really started for me there, and I am happy where my game is. I am definitely looking forward to another good week.”
The $7.5 million Nedbank Challenge, which offers a whopping winner’s cheque of $2.5 million, starts on Thursday at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.
The author is considered one of the leading golf journalists in Asia. Find more columns from him at Joy Chakravarty.