15 July 2019: You do not need an incentive to tune your calendar to the Open. But the R&A threw in a nice bonus for those that need it, pairing Indian golfer Shubhankar Sharma with Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen for the first two rounds of the 148th Open Championship. The three men will tee off at 0104pm local time on Thursday, when it shall be 0534pm in India. They will start their round on Friday in the morning at 0803am (1233pm IST).
The Open afforded the opening salvo to local hero Darren Clarke, who the Claret Jug in 2011. The former European Ryder Cup captain will tee off at 0635am on Thursday. Clarke, 50, met his wife Heather in this town and made the county his home.
Shubhankar Sharma is making his fifth start in a major event and will be emboldened by his recent form and the fact that the Open is the only major tournament where he made the cut during his breakthrough season in 2018. Just last week, Shubhankar was on the verge of missing the cut after an opening 71 left him stranded in the wrong section of the Scottish Open leaderboard.
He produced an incredible round of spotless golf under enormous pressure to secure his spot for the weekend. His five-under 67 was underlined by a spectacular birdie on the 18th from more than 40 feet. It was to prove critical in the end as Shubhankar went into the weekend right on the number.
The 22-year-old played exceptionally well from there to close out the week with a pair of 66s to finish in T34 alongside Rory McIlroy. It was an effort that was reminiscent of his heroic effort at Carnoustie on Friday last year. Staring down the barrel after making three bogeys in five holes from the 8th, Shubhankar Sharma found the nerve to produce three birdies over the next six to remain inside the cut line.
As he arrives into Royal Portrush, Shubhankar would love to turn the tide – he has missed the cut in three of his last five starts – with a memorable performance. The young man is striking the ball well and with a bit of luck, we could even see him chasing the big boys for a slice of glory on Sunday. Keep your fingers crossed and send some silent prayers over for the young man.
Defending champion, Francesco Molinari expects his course management skills to come to the fore this week.