Sharma impresses again at CIMB Classic

Shubhankar Sharma shot a round of 66 in the third round of the CIMB Classic. (AFP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: India’s 22-year-old Shubhankar Sharma once again served notice of his immense talent with a round of six-under-par 66 that tied him for the lead in the US$7 million (RM29 million) PGA event in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

Sharma, who burst onto the scene with wins in Joburg and Maybank Championship on the European Tour earlier in the season, moved to 19-under-par 197, catching up with joint overnight leaders Gary Woodland of the US and Australia’s Marc Leishman, who both came in with 67 each.

The resurgent South African Louis Oosthuizen (65), who has recently been plagued with back injuries, and Bronson Burgoon (67) of the US, the surprise package of the tournament, were tied for fourth place at 17 under par.

The US’ 2009 Open Championship champion Stewart Cink shot the lowest round of the day, a nine-under-par 63, to move to tied seventh place at 15 under par along with five others, while his compatriot Austin Cook (68) was the lone man in sixth place at 200.

World number 24 Leishman who made the first move, starting with birdies on his first two holes and an eagle on the third. But after making the turn in 30, he struggled on the back nine and came back in 37 shots.

Sharma was consistent on both halves. He saved clutch pars on the eighth hole, where he chipped in, and the par-4 12th, where he extricated himself from the third fairway and made a gutsy up-and-down. But he gave himself several birdie chances and converted seven of them. His only bogey came on the par-3 15th hole.

Sharma, who is trying to become the first Asian champion of the tournament, said three birdies in the first five holes and his par save on the eight were crucial.

“I think it’s always important to get off to a good start, especially on this course where everyone’s just going low. You have to have your foot on the pedal from the first hole and I was happy that I could make a few birdies of my own in the first five holes,” said Sharma, who led after the second and third rounds of the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier in the year before finishing tied ninth.

Leishman, who was six under par for his last eight holes on Friday, moved to 10 under par for 11 holes after three on Saturday. Even though the back nine did not go according to plan, the three-time PGA Tour champion was not giving up his chances.

“(I’m) happy with the round – gave myself a good chance tomorrow, so hopefully I can be hot like I was that first 10 holes today and see how we end up,” said Leishman.

Woodland, 34, used his massive strength to reach the green in two on the long par-5 18th and made a closing birdie to join Leishman and Sharma.“I played very well today… Kind of got a little loose there on the back nine, maybe ran out of gas a little, but it was nice to finish up with a birdie and nice to get some momentum going into tomorrow,” said the two-time CIMB Classic runner-up.

Former world number one and two-time champion Justin Thomas shot a 69 and was seven shots behind the leaders at 12 under par. Defending champion Pat Perez was tied 42nd at six-under par.