JOHANNESBURG - Last Monday Shubankar Sharma was still wondering whether he’d made the right decision to come to South Africa for the first time to play in the Joburg Open. A week later he was the happiest man at the Randpark Golf Club, having won the title, earned a spot in the Open Championship and banked a sizeable cheque.
The 21-year-old was made to work hard for the R2.58-million winner’s cheque after being asked to come back Monday morning to complete his final round, along with a host of others, after rain and lightning halted proceedings on Sunday.
In tough conditions Sharma put everything behind him and went about his business just as he’d done in his first three and a half rounds. He rolled in a birdie putt at the par-four ninth soon after continuing his final round and then parred his way home for a score of 69 to finish at 23-under, three clear of nearest challenger, Erik van Rooyen.
The South African did his best to unsettle the young Indian player as he made six birdies and no bogeys in an excellent final round of 66 to be at 20-under for the tournament.
Sharma made just three bogeys all week, all of them coming in his first round. His second round 61, 10-under-par, on the Bushwillow layout on Friday, set him up for the win - the biggest of his career.
“It feels fantastic,” he said afterwards. “I’m glad I made the decision to come here after not wanting to initially. I will never forget this week ... my first European and Asian Tour title, so it means a lot to me.”
While Sharma stayed aggressive throughout his final round on Monday - just as he’d done all of last week - he admitted he was somewhat nervous sleeping on the lead, and knowing he’d “lost” a day because of the Monday finish.
“There were a lot of nerves, especially last night (Sunday), with all the rain. It was so hard at times I couldn’t sleep and kept getting up. In the end I got up four times during the night.
“The thing is if you’re chasing (like Van Rooyen was) you’ve got nothing to lose, but if you’re leading you’ve got everything to lose; it is tough to maintain your lead. But you need to look at the bigger picture which I did ... if I’d played well for three days, then why not for a fourth day, too?”
Sharma said he had set a target of 25-under-par to keep him motivated.
“I never wanted to be defensive. I imagined a fourth guy in our group and that he was at 25-under and I had to catch him ... I didn’t quite get there, but I’ll take 23-under,” he said.”
The win ensured Sharma will play at the Open Championship next year and so, too, will Van Rooyen and fellow South African Shaun Norris, who grabbed the last of the three slots up for grabs from the Royal and Ancient this week.
Norris, who finished tied-third alongside Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen on 17-under six off the pace, will especially be pleased after enjoying a stunning final round which saw him make eight birdies and a bogey for a 65.
Alone in fifth place was England’s Marcus Armitage at 15-under-par, and tied sixth were James Morrison and JB Hansen at 13-under-par.
Sharma also led the three qualifying spots into @TheOpen from this tournament. Van Rooyen and @shaun_pj took the other two for next year’s Major at Carnoustie. #JoburgOpen2018 pic.twitter.com/OzxTNQbot5