09 November 2019: Have you seen a footballer on his own side of the field, grasping at his head, immediately after using it to direct the ball past his befuddled goalkeeper? Shubhankar Sharma’s cap may have prevented the young man from plucking his hair out after dissolving into one of those self-goal streaks today in the Turkish Airlines Open.
He found the water, not once, but twice. And he did that on consecutive holes. Just three back from the leader at the start of the day, suddenly Shubhankar found himself on the edge of a precarious perch when he slipped to 5-under after bleeding five strokes on a three-hole stretch from the par-3 fifth hole. In the end, though, Shubhankar pulled his swords out just in time to battle his own demons for a respectable 71 that took him to 10-under through 54 holes.
But it is Matthias Schwab that continued to own the Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Belek, Turkey. The Austrian was immovable from his perch at the top, courtesy a 66 on Saturday. It was a round that included an eagle on the first and six birdies, but Schwab had the luxury of absorbing a double bogey at the par-4 12th hole as he stretched his lead to three strokes.
“The game plan is going to be the same as it’s been the last three days,” he said. “The course is gettable and there are a lot of birdies out there so I’ll just stay aggressive because pars won’t be enough.
“I got off to a really nice start on the first hole with the eagle that I made and then played solid golf all around except for that one little hiccup I had on 12 but, other than that, I was hitting them well. I made a few putts, overall it was a good day.”
Chasing his tail for a big fat prize on Sunday are Benjamin Hebert, who shot 64, Patrick Reed, Tyrrell Hatton, Robert MacIntyre, and Ross Fisher. Those are the five men at 15-under with a good chance of upending the train in front.
Victor Perez, Erik van Rooyen, and Scott Jamieson are a further two strokes behind. Kurt Kitayama, playing well all week is tied in tenth with Joachim Hansen, Lee Westwood, Fabrizio Zanotti, and Justin Harding at 12-under 204.
Shubhankar began his day with a birdie at the first and with the Sun shining bright, it appeared that the young man was absolutely ready for an encore of his brilliant performance today. But even as the heat picked up ever so gently, the wheels came off without warning. Playing a four iron off the fifth tee, Shubhankar realized that he was could only pack so many clubs into the bag, but the one he needed to sail past the watery grave that protected the front of the green.
“I think I should have carried a two-iron in the bag, but we also needed a rescue on the other days and we were forced to make a choice,” explained Shubhankar. “It was a case of poor course management by me. So I am going to get back today and see how we can fit in a two-iron in the bag for tomorrow.”
“I am happy to have recovered after dropping to five-under at the seventh hole. It is criminal to be four-over through seven holes of this course when everyone around you is going low,” lamented Shubhankar. “But that is what it was, so I had to just bite my teeth and fight my way back. I am happy in the end to have got on a run there from the eighth and finish under-par for the day.”
It was a remarkable recovery for Sharma. As he dragged himself down to the eighth tee, the 23-year-old was carrying the burden of bleeding five strokes in three holes and the situation was grim, nearly resembling a graveyard procession. In the context, it was an impressive effort for Shubhankar to strike his tee shot to inside three or four feet of the pin on the par-3 8th hole.
Shubhankar made the turn at three-over, but he wasted no time erasing the deficit. He added four straight birdies to his card as he rebuilt the devastated card with the diligence of an artist. Only, Shubhankar was doing it all with the magic of Houdini and the determination of Napolean. Unfortunately, the hole he dug today was too deep for five birdies to script a substantial reversal. He slipped six spots to T17 and will start Sunday at 10-under 206.
Only the top 60 on the Race to Dubai have a protected entry in the Nedbank Challenge next week. As things stand, Shubhankar is expected to move up the order to 75. That might even be enough, considering some top tier absentees and the odd injury forced dropouts, but Shubhankar would want to force his way back inside the top ten and reach South Africa on his own merit.