India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who has been the toast of Indian golf in recent times, continued his meteoric rise in the world of international golf by achieving his second European Tour and Asian Tour win within a span of just two months.
The 21-year-old, who had won the European Tour’s Joburg Open in the second week of December last year, also added the Maybank Championship title to his trophy cabinet on Sunday after smashing a sensational and error-free 10-under-62 in the final round at the Saujana Golf & Country Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sharma (70-69-66-62), who rose 18 places on the leaderboard in round four to wrest the title, totaled an astonishing 21-under-267 for the week thus enjoying a two-shot victory margin over Spaniard Jorge Campillo at the US$ 3 million event.
Shubhankar’s sublime effort on the final day in Kuala Lumpur helped him pick up a handsome pay cheque of US$ 500,000, the biggest of his fledgling career so far. He thus took the lead in both the European Tour Race to Dubai (748.074 Race to Dubai points) and the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
Sharma’s second win of the current European Tour season is also likely to help him break into the top-100 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) when the updated list is released on Monday. He is currently ranked 193rd in the world.
Shubhankar’s success in Malaysia evoked memories of his Joburg Open triumph since he shot rounds of 10-under in both events and also amassed totals lower than 20-under on both occasions. However, today’s victory has to be all the more special as he trailed by four shots going into the final round whereas in South Africa he was five ahead after the penultimate round.
Sharma, who won his first professional title on the PGTI at the age of 17 back in 2014, came up with a dominant display in windy conditions in Kuala Lumpur. The Chandigarh-based professional made five birdies in each half on Sunday which included clutch birdie putts on 17 and 18.
Sharma produced a great comeback after struggling in the opening two rounds where he was tied in 48th place at the halfway stage. A third round 66 put him within four shots of the lead and he charged into contention on the final round when he got off to a hot front nine.
The man who became the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour last December, marked his card with further birdies on 11, 13 and 14 which gave him a two-shot advantage on the 16th hole as he romped to victory in emphatic style to become the first Asian to win the Maybank Championship which staged its third edition this year.
Sharma dropped only three shots the entire week as he had one bogey each in rounds one, two and three. His final round 62 is his joint lowest score on the Asian Tour in relation to par. He shot a 61 (par 71) in the second round of the Joburg Open and a 62 on the last day of the 2016 Resorts World Manila Masters.
Shubhankar, who earned the ticket to his maiden Major, this year’s British Open, through his win in South Africa last December, said, “I played pretty solid and it wasn’t easy because it was windy. I kept pushing the whole day. I knew I had to make a lot birdies to catch the leaders. I made a lot of birdies in the front nine and just continued on the back.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the leaderboard. I wanted to set a target in my mind and try to achieve it. On the 13th I knew I was somewhere near the leaders but on 16 I knew I had a two-shot lead. I told myself if I can make two more birdies that would give me a good chance to win,” he said.
“The last two months have changed my life. I’ve been a member on the Asian Tour for a while and I will continue to be a member on the Asian Tour. I’ve always dreamt of winning and now I’m a two-time winner on the Asian Tour and European Tour,” added Shubhankar.
“I’m over the moon. The last two months have been fantastic for me. I’m playing in The Open championship this year so I can’t ask for anything more. Whatever happened today was fantastic,” he said.
“It is still early in the season and I haven’t thought about winning the Habitat for Humanity Standings. I’m also leading in the Race to Dubai but I’m not thinking about it because there are so many events left. If I play well enough, I will have a good chance to win the Habitat for Humanity Standings. This win is great because it opens so many doors for me. I’m also playing in The Open so I’m excited about that. All and all, it is a great day,” he added.
“This is a very special golf course. I finished tied ninth here last year and it was my first Maybank Championship and best result in a co-sanctioned event. I kept my Asian Tour card here because of this result here. Obviously, I love the course. It wasn’t easy today because it was very windy but this course suits my eye,” Shubhankar said, adding, “I never thought I would win today. In a way that’s good because I was four shots off the leaders. The best thing was that I wasn’t in the leader group. I didn’t go in with the mind-set to win but I went in with the mind-set to shoot a low round. That really helped me today. I had a good feeling I would play well and shoot a low number and that’s what I did.”
While Jorge Campillo bagged second place at 19-under-269, his fellow Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal shared third place with Ryan Fox of New Zealand at 18-under-270.
Khalin Joshi (67-70-65-70) of India, who is Sharma’s close friend and roommate this week, finished in a share of fifth place at 16-under-272. He slipped two places from his overnight tied third. However, it was his best ever finish on the European Tour which has virtually secured his Asian Tour card for next season.
Khalin said, “I kept myself together all week. I didn’t go as low as I could have today but there are so many positives from this week. Now I believe I can play better and I know that I can compete at this level. I showed that to everyone and I proved that to myself. It’s a good week for me.”
“I’ll take rest next week. I am going to meet my coach and spend some time working on a couple of things. Hopefully I can get a few more invites and looking forward to the next couple of events,” he said, adding, “Things have changed so much for me this past year, I was struggling to keep my card just last year and this week comes and I have secured my card already. It changes a lot mentally, now I play to win and not just to play and secure my card.”
“I am so happy for Shubhankar, we were roommates this week and last night we were talking about being roommates on tour if I won. We are good friends and I learn a lot from him and it motivates me to work harder and be up there with him,” he said.
The other two Indians who finished inside the top-30 were Shiv Kapur (tied 23rd at 12-under-276) and Gaganjeet Bhullar (tied 27th at 11-under-277).