March 10, 2018: The DLF Golf & Country Club is host to far more than a golf course. It is a stage, in the mold of an iconic theatre, asking its performers questions of character. On the third day of an already memorable edition of the Hero Indian Open, there was some riveting golf. The scores were stuck in the sand, drawn by the gravity of an unrelenting course. Shubhankar Sharma relied on his knowledge of the conditions to eke out an even 72 to earn a share of the lead with Matt Wallace.
The British golfer, winner of the Portugal Open last year, produced a solid 70, including an eagle at the ninth hole.
Stephen Gallacher deserves a special mention for creating a gem under demanding conditions. The Scot fired five birdies and an eagle at the eighth to post the low round on Saturday.
Austrian Matthias Schwab and Aaron Rai also deserve a special mention for crafting 68 and 69 respectively, on a day of just nine scores under par.
Shubhankar began his day with a couple of pars, even as Emiliano gave away strokes at both holes to narrow the lead down from four to two. The Indian’s round took orbit at the fifth hole. Standing to one end of the island green on the fifth hole, Shubhankar produced a stunning 30ft putt that broke slightly right before sinking in the heart of the cup.
With the wind beneath his wings, Shubhankar started to gain momentum with every passing hole. A brilliant approach at the tenth landed him five feet left of the flag. The 21-year-old converted the birdie without any fuss, a third in four holes, to gain a share of the lead.
In a tie with Wallace, who was four under on the day through eleven holes, and Grillo – the stage was clearly set for a pulsating duel for the increasingly prestigious Hero Indian Open title.
Against the grain of flow, there was trouble at the eleventh hole, where Shubhankar drew his tee shot into a bushel of pine straw. He needed a stroke to extricate the ball and another to reach the green.
Shubhankar escaped with a bogey though, relying on a bit of tenacity and a short game that was on song. Even the par on the 16th felt like an escape given that he had to work his way into the cup from the edge of the green. That putt helped him into the sole lead, with Wallace enduring a pair of bogeys.
But a bad bounce translated to a double bogey at the 17th and Shubhankar needed to play with conviction at the 18th. He did just that to work himself back into a share of the lead, attacking the green to earn a timely birdie.
“This is not a course you can overpower with your hitting,” said Shubhankar, revealing the recipe to success. “You can get bad bounces. The wind is a factor and the guy who is patient and accepts his bogeys is going to win”
“The birdie from 10 was fantastic from the back tee. I have never played off the back tees, to be honest,” added Shubhankar. Really happy with that, but made a few bad shots on the way back, but other than that I played pretty solid.”
Grillo has been comfortably in the lead for two days running, but the course caught up with him. And it extracted its pound of flesh and then some. The Argentine was left bleeding profusely as he made a hattrick of sixes starting at the 13th hole. He ended the day at 5-under, having started it with a four-stroke lead at -11.
Earlier in the day, Wallace was climbing up the order, an eagle at the bend helping him to join the argument at the top.
He was putting well, especially evident at the 14th, where he saved par. Wallace showed great control, using pace and direction to send the ball racing into the heart of the cup, from the fringes of the green.
“Really good day, played nice. It is a tough golf course, especially with the wind blowing in different directions,” surmised Wallace. “2-under par was probably the best I could do on this course today.”
“I mean this week has shown what I needed to do. I need to change my mindset from being aggressive on every single hole to actually being a little more strategic,” added the British golfer. “You cannot get down on yourself on this course. It can turn into a snowball effect and you can pick up bogeys very easily. Very happy with the way I played and am looking forward to tomorrow.”
But it was that kind of day. One that demanded patience and precision from the golfers, in equal measure. Shubhankar and Wallace remained at the head of this intriguing battle between course and craftsmen, locked at 7-under 209. Gallacher is a shot behind the leaders and one ahead of Schwab, Andrew Johnston, and Grillo.
“I want to have fun tomorrow. It is the second week in a row that I will be in the leader group,” said the Indian, looking ahead to the final round. “I want to draw from the lessons last week. It is going to be a battle out there and I am going to be ready for it.”
Indian golfers, of which only eight remain in the field, endured another difficult day. Ajeetesh Sandhu is in T26 at 2-over, with Anirban Lahiri and Jyoti Randhawa in T32 at 4-over.
Khalin Joshi made a rousing 68 on Friday, but an 81 in the third round dropped him to 5-over. Amateur Kshitij Naveed Kaul and Karandeep Kochhar were at 223, with Udayan Mane at 226.