29 January 2021: Since shooting three rounds in the 60s Shubhankar Sharma has been hard at work trying to regain consistency. All the effort finally bore some fruit, with the Indian making a disciplined 68 in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic to climb eleven spots to ninth on the leaderboard. The 24-year-old reached the weekend at 6-under 138, four adrift from the leader Thomas Detry took the lead 12 holes into his round, scoring back to back birdies at the second and third holes. He came home without incident from there to enjoy a slim edge over the field, at 10-under 134. The promising Scot, Robert MacIntyre shot a 68 to enjoy the clubhouse lead at 9-under, before being overtaken by the Belgian.
Shubhankar was working off a 70 in the opening round. But he was incentivised to try and find a good round on Friday to treat his younger sister Vandini on her 19th birthday. The lad from Chandigarh may have slipped all the way to 385th in the OWGR rankings, but the two-time European Tour winner knows he has the game to rub shoulders with the best of the lot.
A bogey on the 12th wasn’t his idea of the kind of day he wanted at the office. Shubhankar bounced back with consecutive birdies at the 14th before adding one more at the bend to go two-under. Yet again, his run was halted by another bogey at the par-4 first hole. But he wasn’t in the mood to be derailed, as he sailed with finesse, collecting three more birdies on the way home for a fluent 68. Shubhankar is lying in 12th place at the halfway stage of the Dubai Desert Classic.
“I had a great day, played some solid golf. It was not a great start, was one-over after three holes, but made some birdies on tough holes. I was happy to make some good up and downs along the way,” said Shubhankar. “I was especially happy with the two birdies at the end, was a good way to finish the round. I look forward now to strong weekend and a good finish.”
MacIntyre has already drawn plenty of attention early in his career. Golf pundits are unified in acclaiming the young man as one of the biggest talents emerging out of Europe. And the 24-year-old showed just why, with an impeccable 68 decorated by a couple of birdies on either side to gain the clubhouse lead. He held it for much of the day, before another well regarded young golfer took charge.
Detry is four years senior to MacIntyre and unlike the Scot, he is still seeking his maiden victory on the European Tour. The Belgian marched around the Emirates Golf Club course without damage for the second day running, moving into the lead with a spotless 67. “First thing that comes to my mind is bogey-free, on this course, that’s a pretty good achievement. Let’s keep it that way,” Detry said.
“I’ve been playing some really good golf, keeping it on the fairway and hitting every single green and getting up-and-down a couple of good times. So I’m very pleased. It would be extra special (to win). I’m moving here in a couple of weeks, as well, so this is my new residence. So winning at home would be amazing.”
MacIntyre has just the lone bogey from the 16th hole during the opening round but felt that he played better on Thursday. A bogey-free 68 isn’t a bad return for a golfer struggling to find his best rhythm. “It wasn’t as pretty as yesterday’s round if I’m being honest. Wasn’t as solid. But that’s the way golf is,” MacIntyre admitted.
“You can’t have a 72-hole tournament where you hit it absolutely perfectly. But I hung in there and I putted great.”
Finland’s Kalle Samooja finished second in the Cyprus Open and finished in a tie for 23rd in the DP World Tour Championship in December. The 33-year-old seems to have brought that form to bear, shooting a pair of 68s to join Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Harding in the third spot.
There were six golfers lying in sixth place at 7-under, one behind the troika ahead of them. Mikko Korhonen, Kurt Kitayama, Paul Casey, Adri Arnaus, Lee Westwood, and Brandon Stone rounded off the top ten at the halfway stage of the tournament. The cut fell at par with Ian Poulter among those missing right on the edge.
Gaganjeet Bhullar disadvantaged his situation with a 77 in the opening round. He played brilliantly aggressive golf on Friday in a bid to rescue the ship, but despite making six birdies, he could only accumulate a 71 on his card. Bhullar was three-under on his first nine holes and looking good for an unlikely comeback, but in the quest for birdies, he also conceded three bogeys and a double to surrender ground.