Painless Shubhankar reaps big gains on the course, moves to T-9 in Dubai

Sharma had seven birdies against an early bogey to take his total to 10-under 206.

Shubhankar began with a bogey on second, as opposed to two birdies on first two holes on first two days.   -  Getty Images

With his troublesome heel showing signs of improvement, Shubhankar Sharma turned in a bright six-under 66 to get into the Top-10 at Tied-ninth after the third round of the DP World Tour Championships, here, on Saturday.

Sharma had seven birdies against an early bogey to take his total to 10-under 206. The 22-year-old India, who was Tied-20th after the second round, began with a bogey on second, as opposed to two birdies on first two holes on first two days.

But, over the next 17 holes, he was bogey-free and had six birdies, twice back-to-back to move to Tied-ninth. Sharma, playing with Lee Westwood, almost matched the former World No. 1, step for step. Westwood, who won last week at the Nedbank Challenge, shot a bogey-free 65.

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Danny Willett (68) and Patrick Reed (67), who between them have two of the last three Green Jackets from the Masters, but nothing else in more than two years, go into the final with a share of the lead.

The 2018 Masters Champion Reed had four birdies in six holes between the 11th and 16th, while 2016 Masters Champion Willett rolled in three in a row from the 14th as both were tied at 14-under. A shot behind was Jordan Smith (69), who has won only once on the European Tour last year.

Smith had his own fine finish with three birdies in last five to be sole third, as fellow Englishmen Matt Wallace, the overnight leader, and Lee Westwood, last week’s winner, South African Dean Burmester, Tied-fourth last year, shared fourth place at 12-under.

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Two shots behind them was Sharma in the highly-decorated company of 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia (67), 2016 Open winner Henrik Stenson (69), 2017 DP World winner Jon Rahm (69) at 10-under and Tied-ninth.

Smiling without a trace of pain after firing seven birdies following an early bogey, Sharma said, “I hit the ball decently, but I hit it better yesterday (for 67). However, I must say I scored better today. Just need to keep that going for one more day, the last one of the European Tour season. It has been a great one.”

Sharma, who began his rookie year with a Tied-10th at Hong Kong last 2017, will be off next week to Hong Kong to herald the 2019 European Tour season.

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But, before that, he has a fine chance to better the best by an Indian at DP World Tour Championships, which currently stands in the name of Jeev Milkha Singh, who was Tied-13th in 2009, the inaugural year when Westwood emerged the winner.

Sharma said, “I hit one bad shot on second when I had a duff, but I could still have got a par, but ended with a bogey. Then, I had a nice save from almost 30 feet on ninth. With two good rounds last two days, I am looking at a good final round to close the European Tour season on a high.”

Asked about the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award, he said, “Till a few weeks ago, I did not even know about this award until I saw a post on the European Tour website. Now, I am leading the race. I want to close that successfully.”

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Sharma leads his nearest rival, Lucas Herbert, by over 400,000 points and the latter is also way behind in T-52 place this week. The next man, Sam Horsfield is T-32.

The three-time winner in 2018, Wallace starting at 11-under moved to 14-under with three birdies in first three holes.

But, the magic died after that. He parred next three and then doubled bogeyed seventh. In the remaining 11 holes, all he had was a birdie and a bogey and a lot of close shaves. He slipped to Tied-fourth.