Sharma in lead, eyes dream win
CIMB CLASSIC Indian sensation in threeway tie for top spot, chases maiden PGA title at the $7 million tournament
KUALALUMPUR: India’s 22-year-old Shubhankar Sharma again served notice of his immense talent with a round of six-under par 66 that tied him for the lead in the $7 million CIMB Classic at the TPC Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
Sharma, who burst onto the scene with wins in Joburg and Maybank Championship on the European Tour earlier in the season, moved to 19-under par 197, catching up with joint overnight leaders Gary Woodland of the US and Australia’s Marc Leishman, who both came in with 67 each.
The resurgent South African Louis Oosthuizen (65), who has recently been plagued with back injuries, and Bronson Burgoon (67) of the US, the surprise package of the tournament, were tied for fourth place at 17-under par.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, carded a sparkling 65 to move alongside firstround leader Burgoon.
American 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink shot the lowest round of the day, a nine-under par 63, to move to tied seventh place at 15-under par along with five others, while his compatriot Austin Cook (68) was the lone man in sixth place at 200.
Cink raced into contention heading into the final round with nine birdies, four shots off the pace.
But Englishman Paul Casey, one-shot off the lead at the halfway stage, struggled on the back nine and dropped 10 places after a one-under 71 to stand five shots behind the pacesetters.
LEISHMAN STRUGGLES AFTER GOOD START
Playing in the leader group, it was world number 24 Leishman who made the first move, starting with birdies on his first two holes and an eagle on the third. But after making the turn in 30, he struggled on the back nine and came back in 37 shots.
Sharma, who is seeking his first PGA title, is looking to emulate Arjun Atwal, who is the only Indian to have won a PGA title.
Sharma was consistent on both halves. He saved crunch pars on the eighth hole, where he chipped in, and the par-4 12th, where he extricated himself from the third fairway and made a gutsy up-and-down.
But he gave himself several birdie chances and converted seven of them. His only bogey came on the par-3 15th hole.
SHUBHANKAR’S ‘FOOT ON THE PEDAL’
Sharma, who is trying to become the first Asian champion of the tournament, said three birdies in the first five holes and his par save on the eight were crucial.
“It is always important to get off to a good start, especially on this course where everyone’s just going low.
“You have to have your foot on the pedal from the first hole and I was happy that I could make a few birdies of my own in the first five holes,” said Sharma.
He led after the second and third rounds of the Wgc-mexico Championship earlier in the year before finishing tied ninth.
“Good thing is that I’ve been in this position before so I know what happens and what my mind goes through, so I’ll just try and relax myself as much as possible,” he said. “The way I’m playing, I’m pretty sure I’ll play well tomorrow as well.”
BHULLAR, LAHIRI FADE
Among India’s other players in the fray, Gaganjeet Bhullar (71) and Anirban Lahiri were way down the leaderboard.
Bhullar had three birdies against two bogeys to be 6-under 210 and was tied 42 while Anirban (68) was tied 64 after a third round of 68. Lahiri was 2-under for the tournament. Rahil Gangjee (73) was lying 77th at 5-over.
Meanwhile, Leishman, who was six-under par for his last eight holes on Friday, moved to 10-under par for 11 holes after three on Saturday. And even though the back nine did not go as per plans, the threetime PGA Tour champion was not giving up his chances.
“(I am) happy with the round — gave myself a good chance tomorrow, so hopefully I can be hot like I was that first 10 holes today and see how we end up,” said Leishman.
Woodland, 34, reached the green in two on the long par-5 18th and made a closing birdie to join Leishman and Sharma at the top.
It’s important to get off to a good start on this course where everyone’s just going low. You’ve to have your foot on the pedal from the first hole I’m happy with the round — gave myself a good chance so hopefully I can be hot like I was that first 10 holes today and see how we end up
Shubhankar Sharma is looking to emulate Arjun Atwal.