Saturday is called ‘moving day’ in tournament golf as players jostle for position to have a good chance in the final round. There was a lot of moving at the Hero Indian Open on Saturday, but in a sense, everybody remained where they were. However, when the dust settled, Shubhankar Sharma found himself in a situation he is getting increasingly familiar of late – leading the tournament going into the final day.
After two days when the course record was equalled and then broken, the Gary Player layout at the DLF Golf & Country Club bared its fangs on Saturday. As a result, Sharma’s level-par round was worth much more, but the 21-year-old will settle for a share of the lead with Englishman Matt Wallace at 7-under par.
Since the Indian Open became part of the European Tour, the tournament has been won by Indians (Anirban Lahiri in 2015 and SSP Chawrasia the next two years). It is now up to Sharma to keep the home domination going, as the next highest Indian on the leaderboard is Ajeetesh Sandhu (tied 26th at 2-over). Sharma will take much confidence from his local knowledge of his home course as well as the experience of being in a similar position at the World Golf Championship event in Mexico last weekend.
Back tees, tough pin positions and strong winds made life tough for the golfers. Scot Stephen Gallacher carded the best round of the day (5-under) to be one back of the leaders, but overnight leader Emiliano Grillo of Argentina suffered, with a 6-over par round to drop to two back. But the tough conditions ensured that no one got too ahead of the field as 13 players were within five shots of the lead.
“It is a very open tournament tomorrow and I will have to play perfect golf to win. There are no birdie holes out there and one can’t overpower the course,” Sharma said after carding five birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey in his third round.
“My day was a mixed bag but I’m happy with that in such tough conditions. I had some bad bounces and hit some bad shots, but you have to accept dropped shots here.”
Sharma showed plenty of patience in face of adversity and tied Wallace for the lead when he birdied the par-5 18th after a double bogey on the previous hole.
After winning in Johannesburg and Malaysia, and finishing in the top 10 at the Mexico Championship, a victory on his home turf could take Sharma inside the top 50 of the world rankings.
Wallace was 5-under at the halfway stage, and despite two late bogeys finds himself in a share of the lead. His round was highlighted by an eagle at the par-4 9th, but he also had four birdies. “Every hole is a test. Every hole is a double bogey waiting to happen. I just took every hole as it came and played it as well as possible,” Wallace, who has one victory on the European Tour – the 2017 Open de Portugal – said.
The two leaders will do well not to ignore the veteran Gallacher, who sits just one back. The 43-year-old knows how to win big tournaments, as his back-to-back titles at the Dubai Desert Classic (2013-14) and 2004 Dunhill Links Championship prove.
“You just can’t let up on any shot. It’s like playing a Major kind of style. Even if you hit a good tee shot, you’ve got to work hard on your next shot and your next shot. It’s mentally tough. If I play like that tomorrow, I’ve got to have a chance” the Scot said.
Grillo in the mix
The overnight leader had a day marred by four bogeys and back-to-back double bogeys on the 13th and 14th, but after a closing birdie, the Argentine remains well in the mix. As is Englishman Andrew Johnston, who held it together throughout the day in tough conditions to be two behind as well. Austrian Matthias Schwab, 23, had a bogey-free round of 4-under and will also start the final round two back.
Top scores: -7: Shubhankar Sharma (IND) Par, Matt Wallace (ENG) -2; -6: Stephen Gallacher (SCO) -5; -5: Emiliano Grillo (ARG) +6, Matthias Schwab (AUT) -4, Andrew Johnston (ENG) +1