Shubhankar continues to call the shots

Shubhankar continues to call the shots

Indian youngster fires 66 to take two-shot lead

Shubhankar continues to call the shots

Shubhankar Sharma moved past some of the biggest names in the game to open up a two-shot lead at the USD 10 million WGC-Mexico Championship here on Friday.

He followed up his first round six-under 65 with a 66, that included a back nine with five birdies against no bogeys.

At 11-under, he was two shots ahead of reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele and Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen (71), World No 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson (66), two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson (66) and Kiradech Aphinbarnrat (69) were among those tied fifth and four behind Shubhankar.

Son of an Army Colonel M L Sharma, who took time off to devote himself to his talented son, the younger Sharma hit the spotlight with two victories in a matter of seven weeks at co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour events in South Africa and Malaysia.

"I'm really happy. I couldn't be in a better situation. Played so well, and the bogeys that I made today were just three putts. Otherwise I just got the ball in play all day and it was great to finish with three birdies in a row," said Shubhankar.

"I thought about nothing, I just wanted to have fun. It's my first WGC and I was happy that I'll play four days because I missed the cut in the last two events that I played. Even though I missed the cuts, I knew I was playing well."

The 21-year-old, who is the youngest competitor in the elite field, started the second round in a spectacular manner, smashing his drive to within two feet at the short par-4 for a tap-in eagle. He moved into sole lead at that stage, but back-to-back three-putts on the next two holes saw him slip back to overnight six-under.

Not allowing the situation or the stage to get to him, he steadied the ship and parred the next six holes till he reached the turn. His birdie run on the back nine started on 11th, when he reached the green in two at par-5 11th and birdied from under 10 feet. Another birdie, this time from 24 feet on par-4 12th saw him move further up.

Three pars later, he reached the final three holes and he birdied all three to move into double figures and beyond to 11-under. Three excellent tee shots gave him just the chance at par-4 16th where he hit his approach to within two feet and on par-3 17th, he hit his tee shot to inside 10 feet and holed it and closed the day with another perfect approach shot to just over 10 feet from 143 yards and birdied it.

"I worked all my life to come and play at a high stage like this. You have to expect great things from yourself if you want to play at a high stage," said Shubhankar.

The best-ever result by an Indian golfer in the World Golf Championships event is by Jeev Milkha Singh, who finished fourth at the WGC Championships in 2009 when it used to be played at Doral. Shubhankar wants to keep his foot on the pedal as a strong week could open new doors and see him catapult into the top-50. It could also earn him spots at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Masters tournament and THE PLAYERS Championship in the coming weeks.

This is Shubhankar's WGC debut and he has not played at any Majors, though a spot at the Open is booked with his win in Joburg.

"In the past four months, my life has totally changed. Obviously I want to get to the PGA Tour. So everything is happening so fast, it's just taking time to sink in. Obviously the final destination for me is the PGA, that's always been my dream," said Shubhankar.

The last player to win on his PGA Tour debut was Jim Benepe at the 1988 Beatrice Western Open.


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