MEXICO CITY – India’s Shubhankar Sharma opened with an eagle and closed with three consecutive birdies to seize a two-stroke lead after Friday’s second round of the WGC Mexico Championship.
The 21-year-old Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, who has won twice in the past three months, has outclassed a world-class field for 36 holes at Club de Golf Chapultepec near Mexico City.
“I’ve definitely proven to myself I belong here and I can play with the big boys,” Sharma said.
“I’ll keep trying to do what I’ve been doing for the next two days.”
Sharma, who opened with a 65, stood on 11-under-par 131, with Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello and American Xander Schauffele sharing second on 133.
Sharma’s WGC debut comes after European Tour wins last December at the Joburg Open and last month in Malaysia at the Maybank Championship.
He hopes to jump from 75th in the world rankings into the top 50 in time to qualify for next month’s Masters, the year’s first major championship.
Sharma's on 🔥.
Youngest man in the field leads by one. pic.twitter.com/nkXcsp3lX1
“I didn’t really put any pressure on myself before I came here,” Sharma said. “I’m really happy I’m playing at such a high level with all the great players out there. I’m really enjoying it and that’s when I’m able to play my best.”
Sharma blasted his opening tee shot two feet from the cup for a tap-in eagle.
“I knew I had to hit a great 3-wood,” Sharma said.
After his only bogeys at the second and third holes, Sharma had back-to-back birdies at the par-5 11th from 10 feet and the par-4 12th from 23 feet.
Sharma closed with birdies from three feet ay 16, and 10 feet at the par-3 17th and par-4 18th.
“I just kept the ball in play,” Sharma said. “The little bogeys I made were three-putts. Kept the ball in the fairway and gave myself the most opportunities.”
Sharma has an opportunity to become only the second player to win his US PGA Tour debut after Jim Benepe at the 1988 Western Open.
It was the American’s lone career US PGA triumph and came only after a last-minute sponsor exemption.
Reigning Masters champion Garcia fired a bogey-free 65 that included a 22-foot eagle putt at the par-5 11th and a 16-foot birdie at 18 to grab a share of second place.
Schauffele, the US PGA Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year, is the only player with no bogeys after 36 holes, having opened with a 65 and followed with a 68.
“I felt like I didn’t have a whole lot of control today, but I putted really well,” he said. “On the safer side, not too many birdies, but no bogeys.”
Top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson eagled from 112 yards at the par-4 ninth, landing the ball beyond the hole with a 60-degree wedge and back-spinning it into the cup.
“I hit the ball well. I drove it well. I rolled it good. Just did not make any putts,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence going into the weekend the way I struck it today.”
The American shot 66 to stand on 135, sharing fifth with compatriots Bubba Watson, Pat Perez, Brendan Steele and Brian Harman, South African Louis Oosthuizen and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat.