• Sharma hangs on to win Joburg Open

    Shubankar Sharma
    Sealed with a kiss

    Shubhankar Sharma entered the week as a relative unknown but left a European Tour champion after holding off South Africa’s Erik Van Rooyen at the Joburg Open, writes WADE PRETORIUS.

    The 21-year-old Indian has a rich pedigree outside of the top level with five wins on the Indian Tour, eight Asian Tour top tens and two top 10s on the European Tour and every ounce of his class this week at Randpark Golf Club.

    While the thunder storms and heavy rain was the winner on Sunday, it was Sharma who was crowned champion on Monday after a steady finish despite a hot pursuit from Van Rooyen.

    The PGA Championship winner gave a wonderful account of himself as he attempted a miracle chase with birdies on 3, 4, 5 and 7 on Sunday. He began Monday by tapping in a birdie on the ninth before getting to -6 for the round with a birdie on the 12 to get within three of Sharma.

    The 27-year-old graduated from the Challenge Tour and missed his first cut on the European Tour in Hong Kong but emerged as the only candidate to chase down Sharma, who was bogey free on Sunday and saved par early on Monday after being bunkered off the 10th tee; a first showing that he would not be intimidated.

    Sharma was unlucky not to see his chip on 12 find the bottom of the hole and then a huge swing in his favour occurred on the next as he was awarded a free drop from casual water in the bunker when his second was plugged. He saved par and at the same time, the South African found the greenside bunker on the par 5 14th and could not get up and down to close the gap to two.

    That par – on the easiest hole in round four –  and another on the par 3 15th when he left his mid-range birdie putt short but on line was the end of Van Rooyen’s race but in fact, it’s a chase that was never really on after Sharma’s 61 on Friday and 65 on Saturday.

    The rising Indian star came home with nine straight pars for a three under par 69 (-23) with Van Rooyen three back after a 66.

    Van Rooyen will no doubt take immense pride from his display as he overshadowed some of the ‘bigger names’ this week putting on an exhibition from tee to green.

    There was another silver lining to the title being taken off home soil as Shaun Norris, a Japan Tour campaigner, booked his place in the 2018 Open Championship with a solo third finish.

    Norris, who has accumulated over R10-million this year, birdied both of the back nine par fives and drained a long put on the par 3 17th before seeing his birdie putt on 18 just find enough of the cup to drop for a closing 65. Norris’ strong finish helped him leapfrog 36-hole leader Tapio Pulkkanen, Marcus Armitage and James Morrison to join Sharma and Van Rooyen in punching their ticket to Carnoustie.

    Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images

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