Twenty-one-year-old golfing sensation Shubhankar Sharma, playing his first PGA Tour and WGC event posted a creditable tied-ninth finish at the US$ 10 million WGC – Mexico Championship in Mexico City.
With his top-10 finish at the event that featured an elite field of 64 and the who’s who of international golf, the European Tour and Asian Tour Order of Merit leader has now moved up from 75 to 66 in the world rankings.
Shubhankar (65-66-69-74), a two-time European Tour winner, became the talk of the golfing world after emerging as the solo leader after 36 and 54 holes.
Leading by two shots in the final round, Shubhankar was being chased by world’s best such as Major winners Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
At the start of round four, the Chandigarh lad was on the cusp of creating history as he looked to conquer uncharted territory by achieving the biggest win by an Indian golfer in terms of prize money earned (US$ 1,660,000), stature of the event (only second to the Majors) and world ranking points earned.
However, as the putts didn’t roll in for him on the final day, Shubhankar posted a three-over-74 to end the week in tied ninth with a total score of 10-under-274. He made four bogeys on the last six holes.
American star Phil Mickelson (66), playing alongside Shubhankar in the leader group, went on to win the tournament after defeating compatriot Justin Thomas (64) in a playoff. Mickelson and Thomas were tied at the top with totals of 16-under-268 after the regulation 72 holes.
Disappointed, Sharma, who has won twice on the European Tour and Asian Tour since last December, only looked at the positives as he proved he belonged amongst the world’s elite in Mexico.
“A little bit disappointed, I was leading and I think I couldn’t finish it off today. But that’s what the game is about. And what I learned, especially playing with Phil, I’ll cherish it forever,” said Sharma.
Sharma’s solid showing in Mexico pushed him further up on the latest Official World Golf Ranking as he jumped from 75th to 66th position. He was ranked 521st just last November. His rise will enhance his chances of qualifying for the next World Golf Championships event later this month, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, which is exclusive to the top-64 golfers.
The Indian rued his luck on the tricky putting greens at Chapultepec. “I just felt like nothing went in. Maybe my speed was wrong, something was off. Even on nine, I hit it in the middle of the hole it lipped out again. I never felt like I could get the speed right or maybe the line, it just wasn’t going in, it wasn’t my day,”
He however maintained that he learnt a lot by playing alongside Mickelson. “If you would have asked me four months ago that I would be playing with Phil at a WGC on the last day, I would have just laughed,”
“Just playing with him has been fantastic. He’s obviously a great man, showed me a few great shots. He’s not afraid to go out there and get it out there and hit it at the pin, and he took some crazy clubs off the tee but that’s what Phil is all about. I’ll never forget it. Especially on 16 where he made birdie, it was the loudest roar I ever heard in life. It was fantastic,” he said.
Mickelson lavished praise on Shubhankar saying, “I saw how well he struck the golf ball. He hit a beautiful tee shot on 1, you can tell he can really play. I saw some of the putts, some of the highlights with the putter.
“He’s a very talented player and I believe he’s leading the Order of Merit on the European Tour. I probably shouldn’t say that, he’s 26 years younger than me!,”he added
Shubhankar now returns home to India for this week’s Indian Open, a tournament co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.