March 28, 2019: Shubhankar Sharma kept the home flag flying high, as he signed for a three-under-par 69 to put himself two behind clubhouse leaders Stephen Gallacher of Scotland and Julian Suri of United States. Gallacher and Suri shot five-under 67 each, while four others carded four-under 68. That group included Robert Karlsson, who turns 50 this September, Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, who was Tied-fourth last year, South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who is coming fresh off a second place in Qatar, and Thailand’s Prom Meesawat.
Sharma, who was five-under through 14 holes, fell with bogeys on sixth and seventh. The highlight of the day was an eagle on par-5 fourth, which was his 13th hole of the day. At that stage he was five-under, before slipping with back-to-back bogeys.
Placed with Sharma at Tied-7th was Scott Hend, who succeeded the Indian as the Maybank Malaysian Champion last week.
Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng and Poom Saksansin, Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura were among the nine players with 69 and Tied-seventh at the US$1.75 million event staged at the challenging DLF Golf and Country Club.
Sharma, the reigning Asian Tour number one, marked his card with one eagle, three birdies and two bogeys at the course where he holds the course record of eight-under-par 64.
“The greens are a lot softer compared to last year. Three-under-par is a good score to start out the tournament especially on this golf course, you need to have a good start to keep the momentum going the next few days so I am pretty happy with how I did,” said Sharma.
Gallacher, a three-time European Tour winner, fired a stunning 67 to take the morning clubhouse lead on his own while three players stayed one shot behind including Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa, Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal and Robert Karlsson of Sweden.
Aiming for a first win on Indian soil, Hend recovered brilliantly from a bad front nine by closing with three consecutive birdies in his final three holes.
“After my 17th and 18th hole we thought we would be flying tomorrow night. I three-putted the 17th and hit two balls into the water hazard on hole 18 which was a bit of a nightmare. To come back after that was great, and I think so far this year this was the best round that I have played,” said Hend, coming off his 10th Asian Tour victory last week in Malaysia.
Gallacher and Suri had contrasting fortunes at the same Gary Player course at the DLF Golf and Country Club last year. The Scotsman was Tied-seventh, while Suri headed home early with rounds of 76-82. Gallacher’s card included six birdies, one bogey, a double and a closing eagle, while Suri had seven birdies and a bogey on either side of the course.
Suri, who was out of action with a surgery in the abdominal region late last year, said, “It was a good day. My caddie Dermot keeps encouraging me and calls me the Greatest Showman sometimes after the movie, so I had to give him a little show there.
“I got the all clear about four or fives weeks ago from the doc and last week in Malaysia was my first event. With the heat there and all the conditions, the body felt great and the swing felt good too. It’s obviously still a work in progress but to shoot a score like this, on a course like this, is a good sign going forward. (The course) is a great test. It’s very dramatic and provokes the imagination a little bit so I enjoy it.”
A year ago, Gallacher tied for seventh at the Hero Indian Open and that effort included five-under 67, which he equaled on Thursday. Gallacher said, “It was a perfect morning. Cool to start with and then it heated up later on in the round, and not too much wind, so it was perfect today.
“I think you have to get it in play off the tee, there is just so much trouble. I think if you get the tee shot in place you can hit a couple of nice iron shots and take advantage of the par fours that are quite short, drive a couple, and knock it onto the par fives. It is quite a strategic course. I don’t think you need to be the longest player on the Tour to play it, I think you’ve just got to plot your way around it.”