Golf: India's Shubhankar Sharma clinches Joburg Open in maiden European Tour win

Shubhankar Sharma of India at the Hong Kong Open tournament in November. PHOTO: AFP

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Indian Shubhankar Sharma completed his maiden European Tour triumph on Monday (Dec 11) in Johannesburg by winning the Joburg Open tournament he almost did not compete in.

He carded a three-under par 69 in the final round to finish three strokes clear of South African Eric van Rooyen in an event that stretched to five days because of bad weather.

The final round was suspended on Sunday (Dec 10) due to torrential rain, lightning and hail and resumed the following day.

Sharma birdied three holes on the outward trek, then parred all the inward-nine holes with immaculate approach shots and putting.

After three bogeys during his opening-round 69 last Thursday (Dec 7), Sharma played 55 holes without dropping a shot and his second-round 61 was the lowest score of the tournament.

Visa delays and tiredness after a long Asian Tour campaign left Sharma contemplating missing the tri-sanctioned European Tour, Asian Tour and South African Sunshine Tour event.

His late decision to visit South Africa for the first time paid rich dividends as he pocketed the 2.6 million rand (S$257,016) first prize.

Victory also guaranteed Sharma, along with van Rooyen and Shaun Norris of South Africa, who came in joint third, places at the British Open in Carnoustie next July.

"I am thrilled that I came to the Joburg Open," said Sharma after adding to his five victories on the Indian circuit.

"It has been a very long Asian Tour season for me so I was considering whether I wanted to visit South Africa. I am really happy that I did."

His previous best European Tour finish was sharing ninth place at the Maybank Championship in Kuala Lumpur last February.

"Winning the Joburg Open on my first trip to South Africa is a wonderful feeling," Sharma said soon after receiving the trophy from Johannesburg mayor and keen golfer Herman Mashaba.

"I met my caddie for the first time last Monday (Dec 4) and we worked so well together. Heeding his advice was a key factor in my success.

"Saving par on a number of holes thanks to up and downs played a significant role in keeping me at the top of the leaderboard."

Van Rooyen quickly became the biggest final-round threat to Sharma and five outward nine birdies narrowed the gap to four shots by the turn.

But he could add only one further birdie, leaving steady Sharma to succeed one week after compatriot Arjun Atwal finished runner-up in the Mauritius Open.

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