Joburg, South Africa, December 11: Shubhankar Sharma of India won the Joburg Open in sensational style on Monday and punched his ticket to The Open in 2018.
The 21-year-old closed with a three-under-par 69 and was bogey-free in the final 54 holes as he ended his first tournament in South Africa with an impressive winning total of 23-under-par 264 at the Randpark Golf Club.
Sharma defeated home favourite Erik van Rooyen (66) by three shots while two-time Asian Tour winner Shaun Norris (65) of South Africa and Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland settled for third place at the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Sunshine Tour.
Van Rooyen booked a spot at Carnoustie and he will be joined by countryman Norris who earned his second appearance at The Open after being ranked higher than Pulkkanen on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Sharma showed no ill effects from the overnight delay when he returned to birdie the ninth hole before parring his way home for a 69 to become the first Asian and Indian golfer to win the R16.5 million (approximately US$1.2 million) event.
The victory was even more special for the talented Indian as he won in the country of his golfing idol Ernie Els, who he met as an 11-year-old boy at the Delhi Golf Club in 2007.
Sharma caught the attention of Els at a golf clinic and after watching him hit a seven iron, the ‘Big Easy’ gave him an autographed business card and said, “Well when you grow up, I’ll be your agent.”
Did you know?
- Sharma is the 11th Asian Tour member in his 20s to win in 2017. He is also the 11th first-time winner this season.
- He is the fifth Indian golfer to win on the Asian Tour this year.
- At the age of 21 years and 143 days, Sharma is the second youngest Indian golfer to win a first Asian Tour title after Gaganjeet Bhullar (21 years and 90 days).
- He is the third youngest player to win on the Asian Tour in 2017 after Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand and Micah Lauren Shin of the United States.
- Sharma is now the first Indian to win in South Africa. He also holds the record as the first Asian to lift the Joburg Open trophy.
- He punched his ticket to The Open in 2018 which will be his first ever appearance in a Major tournament.
- The Joburg Open was extended to Monday after thunderstorms forced officials to call off play on Sunday. Sharma returned to the eighth hole which he parred before making birdie on the next hole.
- He totalled 26 birdies at the Joburg Open and only dropped three bogeys in his opening round. He was flawless in the final 54 holes.
“Playing in The Open is everyone’s dream. Personally it is my favourite Major championship.” – Shubhankar Sharma
Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) – Final Round 69 (-3), Total 264 (-23)
It feels fantastic. I’m glad I made the decision to come here after thinking about not coming. It has been absolutely fantastic and the people are very welcoming. I don’t think I will ever forget this week. This is my first win on the Asian Tour and the European Tour so it means a lot to me.
On the first day there were 240 players. I was just trying to play two good rounds to make the cut and the cut was really low. I was playing well and had a great start on the second day which got things going for me. As soon as I reached -13 after two days, I thought I had a chance to win.
The only thing I was telling myself was to stay aggressive. I never wanted to be defensive. Even when I was leading I never thought of defending my lead. I actually set a target of 25-under and I only shot a 23-under (laughs).
After yesterday’s rain delay I was walking back to the clubhouse and I saw Erik (van Rooyen) had just hit it to two feet so that was a birdie and it would narrow the gap to three shots. In golf, three shots is nothing. We’ve seen people drop shots. I just imagined that there was an invisible guy playing in my group and he was on 25-under. I was just trying to catch that invisible guy. I didn’t quite catch him but I’m happy that I won.
I would love to play in the South African Open and meet Ernie Els. I met him in Macao two years back. He is such a wonderful guy, not only in South Africa but in world golf. What happened to me in 2007 obviously changed everything for me. I was so happy and I framed the card. It just shows that small things from great players like him goes a long way. I was only an 11-year-old boy back then.
There were a lot of nerves. I got up like four times. I couldn’t sleep because it was raining so hard and I kept getting up. You have nothing to lose if you are chasing someone. It is very tough to maintain your lead. You just need to look at the bigger picture. If you played so well for three days, there’s no reason why you won’t play well in the final round. There were a few nervy moments but I’m glad I pulled through.
Playing in The Open is everyone’s dream. Personally it is my favourite Major championship. I’ve watched it every year on television and to be playing in it next year is absolutely fantastic.
Scores after round 4 of the Joburg Open being played at the par 72, 7595 Yards Firethorne C course (am – denotes amateur):
264 – Shubhankar SHARMA (IND) 69-61-65-69.
267 – Erik VAN ROOYEN (RSA) 64-67-70-66.
270 – Shaun NORRIS (RSA) 69-68-68-65, Tapio PULKKANEN (FIN) 65-64-73-68.
272 – Marcus ARMITAGE (ENG) 69-66-67-70.
274 – Joachim B. HANSEN (DEN) 66-67-71-70, James MORRISON (ENG) 64-70-67-73.
275 – Paul PETERSON (USA) 70-67-69-69, Charlie FORD (ENG) 70-64-71-70, Jinho CHOI (KOR) 69-66-70-70, Daniel GREENE (RSA) 70-68-67-70, Christopher BLOMSTRAND (SWE) 70-68-62-75.
276 – Victor PEREZ (FRA) 73-66-69-68, Mikko KORHONEN (FIN) 66-65-75-70, Hennie DU PLESSIS (RSA) 71-67-68-70, Hennie OTTO (RSA) 70-68-67-71, Oliver BEKKER (RSA) 66-70-68-72, Ross MCGOWAN (ENG) 66-72-66-72.
277 – Matthew BALDWIN (ENG) 64-74-71-68, Vaughn GROENEWALD (RSA) 71-66-71-69, Dean BURMESTER (RSA) 66-73-68-70, Jaco AHLERS (RSA) 67-68-72-70, Mark FOSTER (ENG) 71-68-68-70, Aaron RAI (ENG) 69-67-71-70, Gavin GREEN (MAS) 70-67-70-70, Steven BROWN (ENG) 68-65-71-73.
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