Mexico City: Young Indian prospect Shubhankar Sharma bravely maintained his overnight two-shot lead following the third round of the $10 million World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship here.
The 21-year-old Sharma ground out a two-under 69 which included a clutch 13-foot par save on the 18th hole at the Club de Golf Chapultepec here on Saturday as he held off the likes of Phil Mickelson (65), Tyrrell Hatton (64), Sergio Garcia (69) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (69) on Saturday.
World No.1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 68 to share sixth place, three behind Sharma, who was literally taken the world by storm with a measured and composed performance this week.
With so much at stake where a victory over the game's top stars will be worth $1.7 million in prize money, an exemption onto the PGA TOUR through the 2020-21 season, 550 FedExCup points and starts in almost every major championship including THE PLAYERS Championship this season, the talented Indian is looking forward to the final round.
Obviously a dream come true for me to be playing in this tournament and obviously leading, that's just fantastic.
"Really happy with the way I played today, stuck in there," said Sharma, who is making his debut appearance in the World Golf Championships.
"I made a few mistakes on the greens but the greens are tough this week so I think everyone's making a few mistakes. I wasn't too hard on myself. Very, very happy that I could grind out a par on the last hole," he added.
Earlier on Friday, Shubhankar upstaged the games biggest stars when he shot to the top of the leaderboard after a brilliant five-under 66 gave him a two-shot lead.
The 21-year-old, who is the youngest competitor in the elite field, started his round in glorious fashion on Friday with an eagle at the par-4 first hole and then signed off his second round in style with three closing birdies, much to the delight of the Mexican fans at the Golf Club de Chapultepec.
Sharma has burst onto the scene following two victories in co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour events in South Africa and Malaysia over the past three months.
In what is his WGC and PGA TOUR debut, the son of a retired army colonel has been impressive with his stunning performance after two rounds.
"I'm really happy. I couldn't be in a better situation. Played so well, and the bogeys that I made today were just three putts. Otherwise I just got the ball in play all day and it was great to finish with three birdies in a row," Sharma said.
"I thought about nothing, I just wanted to have fun. It's my first WGC and I was happy that I'll play four days because I missed the cut in the last two events that I played. Even though I missed the cuts, I knew I was playing well. So I just wanted to have fun, and yeah, I've had a lot of fun."
He began his day in style, hammering a three-wood 320 yards down towards the first green which saw the ball ending two feet from the hole for a tap-in eagle.
Successive bogeys on the second and third holes saw the Indian make the turn in 35 before coming home strongly with birdies on 11, 12, 16, 17 and 18. His longest birdie putt was from 24 feet on 12 while the other birdies were from inside of 10 feet.
"I worked all my life to come and play at a high stage like this. You have to expect great things from yourself if you want to play at a high stage," Sharma said.
The best result by an Indian golfer in the World Golf Championships event is by Jeev Milkha Singh, who finished fourth at the 2009 WGC-Mexico Championship but with his position heading into the weekend, he intends to keep fighting, especially when a strong week here can see him qualifying for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Masters Tournament and THE PLAYERS Championship in the coming weeks.
"That will be a dream come true if I get into the Masters. I know I need a good finish this week, so I'm just trying to keep my eye on the ball and try to do my best," Sharma said.
"In the past four months, my life has totally changed," he added.
"Obviously the final destination for me is the PGA TOUR, that's always been my dream. Just playing well here this week will get me closer to my dream and just looking forward to it."
Sharma broke through with his maiden victory at the Joburg Open in December and followed up with another triumph at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia last month where he came from four shots back to win with a closing 62.
In his biggest test yet, the current number 1 on the European Tour's Race to Dubai and Asian Tour's Habitat for Humanity standings will be grouped with five-time major winner Mickelson and England's Hatton as he bids to become the youngest player to win a World Golf Championships tournament and only the second Asian after Hideki Matsuyama of Japan to do so.
"It will be a lot of fun. Obviously Phil is a legend in the game of golf and I've seen him on TV for as many years as I can remember. You know, I met him for the first time today and it's great that I'm paired with him tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun," Sharma said.
'Shubhankar's rise augurs well for Indian golfers'
Hailing in-form golfer Shubhankar Sharma's exploits at the ongoing WGC-Mexico Championship, Indian Open-bound S.S.P. Chawrasia said the youngster's sterling performances augurs well for the country's players.
All of 21, Shubhankar is leading an exclusive 65-man field boasting the game's top five ranked players at the halfway point in Mexico City's Golf Club de Chapultepec.
"Shubhankar's performance is good for the country. He is leading there (WGC Mexico) and the world is watching him -- which is phenomenal. He is taking the flag of Indian golfers higher and people are (learning) how good we can be," Chawrasia told reporters at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) on Saturday.
"Previously, Jeev (Milkha Singh), Anirban (Lahiri), Arjun (Atwal) have gone from India so the number of players are increasing both in PGA and European Tour. In the next five years, we will do very well," said the 39-year-old, a two-time European and Asian Tour co-sanctioned Hero Indian Open winner.
"If we have public golf courses, at least 10 players will make it to the international level."
Chawrasia, bidding to become the first ever golfer to notch up a hat-trick of wins in the 54-year history of the tournament, said Shubhankar is someone he is wary of and could challenge him along with Lahiri.
"In India, Shubhankar Sharma is someone who you always need to be wary of at the moment. He is playing well and let's say I am pitted against him in the final, I know that he will not commit any mistake. If I falter, I cannot catch up. So I have to be on my guard. Now it depends how I take this preparation," Chawrasia said.
Shubhankar is the highest-ranked Indian player in the tournament with two European Tour wins in less than two months. He has broken into Top-100, with a world ranking of No. 75.With IANS Inputs
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