Shubhankar Sharma, Bhullar lead Indian challenge in Dubai Desert Classic golf

Gaganjeet Bhullar will return to Dubai after a gap of five years.

Shubhankar Sharma (in the pic) was Asia's No. 1 in 2018.   -  AFP

Shubhankar Sharma and Gaganjeet Bhullar will look to build on their 2018 successes when they spearhead Indian challenge at the Dubai Desert Classic starting Thursday.

Shubhankar, who was Asia No. 1 in 2018, will hope to turn his fortunes after last week, while Bhullar, who had claimed a breakthrough win on the European Tour at the Fiji International last year, will return to Dubai after a gap of five years hoping to improve on his creditable T-27 finish last week in Abu Dhabi.

Bhullar, who was once ranked 85th in the World, is also looking at getting back into the Top-100 zone. He is currently the second best Indian at 141, while Shubhankar Sharma is 123rd.

Anirban Lahiri, who is not playing this week on the PGA Tour, has slipped to 156.

Bhullar’s only appearance in Dubai was in 2014, when he missed the cut and this could be his chance to rectify that.

“The game is good and I am looking forward to it. Last week was alright and let’s see how it goes this week,” said Bhullar. “It was nice to win my maiden European Tour event in Fiji last year. I need to build on it now.”

Last week in Abu Dhabi, Bhullar played all four rounds at par or better with 70-70-69-72 for seven-under 281, but Sharma missed the cut.

Sharma, who played his first Dubai Desert Classic last year, said. “The course is playing much longer this time. Last year it was dry and the ball was running a lot. Last year the cut was four-under but I don’t think it will be as much this time.

“Anyway I am feeling confident. I worked on the game and physical fitness also as the season can get long towards the end.”

Chawrasia has played here no less than six times and made the cut three times.

“But somehow I have not been able to play my best,” said Chawrasia.

“I have missed the cut last two times, but right I am feeling more confident. Hopefully I will be able to get putting right and it has been my strength.”

The second leg of the European Tour’s desert swing tees has a star-studded field. Some of the world’s top-ranked golfers from the PGA and European tours will compete at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Bryson DeChambeau enters the field for the first time as a pro — he was T-18 as an amateur in 2016 — and others include 2017 winner here, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and the European Tour No. 1 in 2017, Tommy Fleetwood are all also in the field.

Fleetwood, the 2017 Race to Dubai champion, registered one win and 11 worldwide top-10s during last year’s campaign, and he will look at starting off 2019 well.

Shane Lowry, who started his off his 2019 season with an impressive wire-to-wire victory at last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and defending champion Li Haotong will also fancy their chances, as will Swede Henrik Stenson, who has spent a considerable time in Dubai, and won way back in 2007.

There are more than a dozen Asian Tour players in the field.

The prominent ones include Justin Harding of South Africa, who had four wins last year, of which two were on Asian Tour.

There is also Matt Wallace, whose three worldwide wins included the Hero Indian Open, and he was also second at the DP World Tour Championships, the season-ending event in Europe.

Asian Tour members like Shaun Norris, who won once in Japan and was also second on Japan Tour’s Order of Merit, Kurt Kitayama, who had a breakthrough win in Mauritius, and David Lipsky, who won the Alfred Dunhill Championships in South Africa are in the fray.

Besides the above, there are also Gavin Green, Phachara Khwongwatmai, Thongchai Jaidee, Scott Hend and Wang Jeunghun are also members of the Asian Tour, and Ernie Els, the Captain of the International Team for 2019 Presidents Cup, is an honorary member of the Tour.