Antalya: If there ever was a case of rising from the dead, this was it. Shubhankar Sharma had the most torrid stretch of three holes on the front nine to drop five shots, but then made a spectacular comeback with six birdies over his last 11 holes and stay within shouting distance of the leaders going into the final round of the $7 million Turkish Airlines Open at Montgomerie Maxx Royal course.
Sharma scripted a stunning comeback from being four-over for the day after seven holes, to finish on one-under par 71. He did slip from his overnight tied 11th place to tied 17th at 10-under par, but the drop was negligible compared to what could have happened.
The 23-year-old from Chandigarh, who needs to finish around the tied 20th place to ensure his spot at the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City next week, was eight shots behind leader Matthias Schwab of Austria, who added a six-under par 66 to reach 18-under par 198 after 54 holes.
The 24-year-old Schwab, one of the hottest and most consistent players on the European Tour with nine top-10 finishes this season, was three ahead of his closest pursuers – a group of five players at 15-under par.
Among those in tied second place was American Patrick Reed, who was recently called up as one of four wildcards by captain Tiger Woods for the Presidents Cup next month.
After making a solid start with a birdie, Sharma would have had no inkling of what lay ahead of him after he was one-under par through four holes.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 9, 2019
On the long par-3 fifth, without the right club for the 224-yard distance in his bag, Sharma opted to muscle a 4-iron and dunked it into the water for a double bogey instead. On the par-4 sixth, his tee shot landed on the fairway and kicked left into the water for a bogey.
Matters got a lot complicated when his drive went left again into the fairway bunker on the seventh, and from a difficult stance, he could only advance it into thick rough before three-putting for a second double bogey.
Within a matter of half an hour, Sharma’s title dreams lay in tatters. Given how low the scores have been, he had dropped out of the top-45 and in danger of slipping further.
And then began the comeback. A peach of fade with a 6-iron almost gave him a hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth. The tap-in birdie from a foot resuscitated his hopes and confidence and following a par on the tough ninth (he had a 14-footer for birdie there), he went on a tear with four birdies on the next four holes. The streak was stopped only when he missed a 12-footer for birdie that looked like going in all the way.
A three-putt bogey on the 16th was his only mistake after the seventh hole, and he made up for it with a stunning birdie on the 17th when he struck his second shot from almost impossible position and angle to three feet.
“It was a tough day, to be honest. I was feeling quite good in the morning at the range and started all right. But those three holes, you just can’t drop so many shots especially on a course like this where everyone is going so low. It was terrible and I got very frustrated,” said Sharma.
“I wasn’t happy at all and wasn’t thinking of anything. I just knew I had to give myself a few opportunities of making birdies and I am glad I was able to do that. At least, I have not shot myself out of the tournament.
“If I can continue playing tomorrow the way I did over the last 11 holes, I can still finish in the top-10. I had a goal of reaching 16-under par after the first round 71, so I think it is still very possible to attain that target. I just need to minimise my mistakes.”
Sharma is paired with England’s Tom Lewis and Belgium’s Thomas Detry in the final round of the tournament on Sunday and tees off at 1020 local time (1250 IST).
The author is considered one of the leading golf journalists in Asia. Find more columns from our sports columnist at Joy Chakravarty.