Shubhankar Sharma wanted to enjoy himself in his first appearance at a World Golf Championship. Nothing was more fun than closing with three straight birdies for a five-under 66 and a two-shot lead Friday in the Mexico Championship.
Sharma hit a three-wood on his opening tee shot to 2 feet for a tap-in eagle, overcame consecutive three-putt bogeys and was flawless the rest of the way at Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City. The 21-year-old from India heads into a weekend that could lead to even bigger events, including the Masters.
He was at 11-under 131, two shots ahead of Masters champion Sergio Garcia (65), Xander Schauffele (68) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (67).
Defending champion Dustin Johnson also is back in the picture after holing a wedge for eagle on his way to a 66. He was four shots behind.
“I worked all my life to come and play at a high stage like this,” said Sharma, who turned pro when he was 16. “You have to expect great things from yourself if you want to play at a high stage. I just try and not think of anything before I start. I just try and concentrate on the success, and just let things go.”
Sharma’s greatest asset is stable mind, and he has not shown any moments of being overwhelmed.
Even so, there has been a few surreal moments, such as warming up the range before the second round.
Jordan Spieth, the British Open champion and former No. 1 in the world, was hitting balls behind him. And then when Spieth left, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson took his place. It was hard for Sharma not to glance at over his shoulder.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said.
And then it got better.
Sharma had such control over his game that he putted for birdie on every hole except the par-4 eighth, where he escaped from the trees into a bunker, blasted out to 12 feet and saved par. He shot 31 on the back, finishing with a gap wedge he hammered to 10 feet for a final birdie, and he walked off the green to a big ovation.
Russell Knox is the only other player to win a World Golf Championship in his debut, at the 2015 HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Kang takes control in Singapore
Danielle Kang shot an eight-under 64 to take a four-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Women’s World Championship in Singapore.
Kang, who won last year’s Women’s PGA Championship, had eight birdies to equal the course record at the Sentosa Golf Club and lead the LPGA tournament at 12-under 132 after her second straight bogey-free round.
Nelly Korda, whose sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour event in Thailand last week, had a 66 to move into a tie for second with fellow American Alex Marina (67). Minjee Lee (66), Cristie Kerr (67) and Chella Choi (69) were a further stroke back at seven under.
Overnight leader Jennifer Song stumbled with a 75, including a quadruple bogey, and Michelle Wie also lost ground with a 73.
Dunlap, Tolles tied for Champions lead
Scott Dunlap and Tommy Tolles topped the Cologuard Classic leaderboard at eight-under 65, with Steve Stricker a stroke back Friday in a bid for his first PGA Tour Champions title.
Dunlap closed his bogey-free round on Omni Tucson National’s Catalina Course with birdies on par-5 eighth and par-four ninth. Tolles, playing in the last group off the first tee, birdied the par-4 18th for a share of the lead. He also had a bogey-free day.
Stricker played the four par-fives in five under, with an eagle on the second and three birdies. He finished second last year in his senior debut. The 12-time PGA Tour winner tied for second two weeks in Florida in the Chubb Classic, his fifth top-three finish in seven career senior starts.
University of Illinois coach Mike Small matched Stricker at 66. Gene Sauers opened with a 67, and Bernhard Langer, Billy Mayfair and Woody Austin shot 68. Langer birdied three of the last four holes. The 60-year-old German star won seven times last season, three of the victories in majors.
Defending champion Tom Lehman, playing alongside Stricker, had a 71. Len Mattiace also shot 71 in his senior debut. The two-time PGA Tour winner turned 50 in October. Vijay Singh opened with a 72.
Coetzee leads in South Africa
George Coetzee shot a second-round 64 on the course he grew up playing in Pretoria to lead the Tshwane Open by one at the midway mark. Coetzee made six birdies on a rampant back nine and seven overall to go to 11 under overall, jump six places up the leaderboard, and move ahead of Felipe Aguilar (67) and Mikko Korhonen (64).
Coetzee, a native of Pretoria and once a regular at the Pretoria Country Club, is seeking a fourth European Tour title and his second at the Tshwane Open after winning in 2015. He put himself in a strong position with four straight birdies over Nos. 12-15 and two more on 17 and 18 in his seven-under round.
Chile’s Aguilar had an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys. Like Coetzee, Finland’s Korhonen also finished strong with five birdies in his last seven. Aguilar and Korhonen were 10 under.
There’s a group of four players three shots behind them. Danny Willett, the 2016 U.S. Masters champion, improved his chances with a second-round, three-under 68 to go to four under and ensure he made the cut.