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.”
Shubhankar Sharma said after the win that he was glad to have made the decision to come here after thinking about not coming. “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,” he added.
He said that the only thing he was telling himself 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),” he said.
“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,” he said.
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.