Shubhankar Sharma snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the final round of the Rs. 1.5 crore McLeod Russel Tour Championship 2017 to make it the ‘icing on the cake’ to a dream season which saw him win three titles.
The 21-year-old from Chandigarh, who recently became the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour, prevailed over Delhi’s Rashid Khan by one shot in a classic encounter at the PGTI’s year-end championship played at the revered Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC).
Shubhankar, trailing by two shots till the 14th hole, turned it around in the final stages to end up with a round of 68 and a winning total of 17-under-271. He thus took home his sixth professional trophy and the winner’s cheque worth a whopping Rs. 22,50,000. The 26-year-old Rashid (71) finished with a total of 16-under-272.
Shamim Khan of Delhi bagged his second PGTI Order of Merit title after finishing tied fourth at eight-under-280 this week. Shamim, who had earlier won the title in 2012, closed the 2017 season with earnings of Rs. 51,64,233 to finish number one in the money list by a fair distance. He won three titles during the season.
Ahmedabad’s Udayan Mane, who also bagged three titles in the season, the joint-highest with Shamim, came in second on the money list with season’s earnings of Rs. 43,14,251. He posted a tied 18th finish at RCGC with a total score of two-under-286 for the week.
Shubhankar Sharma (66-70-67-68) began the day two shots behind the leader Rashid Khan (67-67-67-71) but caught up with the latter on the eighth thanks to three birdies including two tap-ins. Rashid then produced some magic by holing out from 150 yards for an eagle-two on the ninth to regain his two-shot lead.
Khan, a two-time Asian Tour winner, was two ahead after the 14th and looking good for his 10th title. Sharma then clawed his way back with an excellent bunker shot on the 15th that led to a birdie. Rashid found the water on the 15th and the hole witnessed a two-shot swing in favour of Shubhankar that brought him back to level terms with Rashid.
Both players raised the intensity of the contest by making birdies on the next hole. However, the 17th proved to be decisive as Khan’s poor chip shot resulted in a bogey and saw him fall back by one shot. Sharma finally converted a tricky 10-feet par putt on the last hole to clinch his second PGTI title of the season and also his second professional title at the RCGC.
In the process, Shubhankar equaled the lowest winning score at the McLeod Russel Tour Championship earlier posted by Anirban Lahiri during his 2013 triumph.
Shubhankar said, “I was really calm the whole day. Despite being behind I never let the pressure build on myself. I was a bit upset after missing a three-footer for birdie on the ninth but bounced back well with some good shots on the back-nine.
“The 15th was the turning point for me. I knew Rashid had to work hard to make par after finding the water and I produced my best shot of the day on that hole. I landed my bunker shot to five feet which helped me draw level with the leader. I then left myself a tricky 10-feet winning putt after misjudging the green speed with my first putt on the last hole. But I read the line well and saw it through. My putting was much better compared to the last two rounds.
“I’ve been really calm on the course for the past one month and that has made a huge difference to my game. My special relationship with the RCGC continues as I previously won the All India Amateur here in 2013 and another PGTI event in 2016.
“Wins don’t come easy at the professional level so you have to capitalize when you’re playing well. I’ve managed to capitalize on the form so far. I’m now excited about playing in Europe next season,” added Shubhankar, who won his maiden international title at the European Tour’s Joburg Open two weeks back.
Kolkata’s Rahil Gangjee (71) finished third at nine-under-279 while Delhi’s Shamim Khan, Kolkata’s Viraj Madappa, Md Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh and Gurgaon-based Manu Gandas were bunched in tied fourth at eight-under-280.
On his Order of Merit win, Shamim Khan, said, “It’s been a just reward for my fantastic season as I won thrice. I was in contention all through the year thanks to some consistent performances. Now looking forward to an even better season next year.”
Twenty-year-old Viraj Madappa of Kolkata won the PGTI Emerging Player of the Year title with season’s earnings of Rs. 23,49,641, the highest among the rookies. Viraj ended ninth on the PGTI Order of Merit courtesy six top-10s in the year including a joint runner-up finish in Jamshedpur last week. Chandigarh’s Karandeep Kochhar, who claimed tied 30th place at two-over-290 at the McLeod Russel Tour Championship, finished second in the Emerging Player race with season’s earnings of Rs. 9,71,633.
On his Emerging Player win, Madappa, said, “I didn’t have too many expectations at the start of the year as I was going through a change in my swing. But I got really comfortable on the PGTI as the year progressed. The good performances in my rookie season have given me a lot of confidence for the future. Hopefully, a win should come soon.”
Local favourite SSP Chawrasia finished tied 10th at five-under-283.