India's Sharma on the cusp of glory at WGC-Mexico Championship

Sat 03 Mar 2018

India's Sharma on the cusp of glory at WGC-Mexico Championship


Mexico City, March 3: Young Indian prospect Shubhankar Sharma will face the most important 18 holes of his golfing life yet on Sunday after he bravely maintained his overnight two-shot lead following the third round of the US$10 million World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.

The 21-year-old Sharma ground out a two-under 69 which included a clutch 13-foot par save on the 18th hole at the Club de Golf Chapultepec as he held off the likes of Phil Mickelson (65), Tyrrell Hatton (64), Sergio Garcia (69) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (69) on Saturday.

World No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 68 to share sixth place, three behind Sharma, who was literally taken the world by storm with a measured and composed performance this week.

With so much at stake where a victory over the game’s top stars will be worth US$1.7 million in prize money, an exemption onto the PGA TOUR through the 2020-21 season, 550 FedExCup points and starts in almost every major championship including THE PLAYERS Championship this season, the talented Indian is looking forward to the final round.

“Obviously a dream come true for me to be playing in this tournament and obviously leading, that's just fantastic.  Really happy with the way I played today, stuck in there. I made a few mistakes on the greens but the greens are tough this week so I think everyone's making a few mistakes. I wasn't too hard on myself.  Very, very happy that I could grind out a par on the last hole,” said Sharma, who is making his debut appearance in the World Golf Championships.

Sharma broke through with his maiden victory at the Joburg Open in December and followed up with another triumph at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia last month where he came from four shots back to win with a closing 62.

In his biggest test yet, the current No. 1 on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and Asian Tour’s Habitat for Humanity standings will be grouped with five-time major winner Mickelson and England’s Hatton as he bids to become the youngest player to win a World Golf Championships tournament and only the second Asian after Hideki Matsuyama of Japan to do so.

“It will be a lot of fun,” said Sharma. “Obviously Phil is a legend in the game of golf and I've seen him on TV for as many years as I can remember. You know, I met him for the first time today and it's great that I'm paired with him tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun.”

Sharma has gone about his business in Mexico so quietly that when he sheepishly approached Mickelson, a 42-time PGA TOUR winner, at the practice putting green to introduce himself prior to his third round, the World Golf Hall of Famer initially waved him away thinking he was a journalist.

“To be honest, me and my caddie Baaz (Gurbaaz Mann), we both went up to him. He thought we were media and he said, "Not right now, after the round." Then he just realized and said, "So sorry, I thought you were media," and he said hi, I said hi. Then he made a few putts and he came back to me and said, "Have a good day." It was nice,” recounted Sharma, who turned professional at 16 as his father felt it was the best way to get better at the game.

“I was nervous today as well, but I think that is probably working for me and I think being a little bit anxious and a little bit nervous on the first tee is not too bad sometimes, just keeps you at the job and you try and be as concentrated as possible. That's what I tried to do.”

When he was younger, Sharma, his father Col Mohan Sharma, who is here this week, and some friends would stay up early into the mornings in India to watch the live telecasts of PGA TOUR tournaments and the majors. “Dad and me are very passionate about it. I remember all the majors pretty much by heart and pretty much all the shots, and I remember Phil winning in 2013 (The Open Championship) and the shot on the 13th was just fabulous,” said Sharma.

“The best I think was when Rory (McIlroy) won the U.S. Open. It went on until 6:00 in the morning back home. I remember I was so inspired that I didn't sleep, I just went straight to the range and hit balls for two hours. It's great for kids like me back then. It's very inspiring to see all these great players and that's the beauty of the game.”

Asked if he ever envisioned himself holding aloft a major or World Golf Championships trophy, he replied: “Every time, every time watching these majors. It really inspires you, especially watching it at night, it's a very different atmosphere. Everything is quiet and you see a guy make a putt and you see that roar on it TV, you can't contain yourself.”

If he keeps making putts and performing the way he has been at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Sharma will be the one inspiring the next generation of Indian and Asian golfers.