Golf: Super Shubhankar Sharma impresses again to grab share of CIMB Classic lead

Shubhankar Sharma is trying to become the first Asian champion of the tournament. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - 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 third round lead in the US$7 million (S$9.6 million) CIMB Classic on Saturday (Oct 13).

Sharma, who burst onto the scene with wins in Johannesburg and the 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 shot 67.

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

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

Playing in the leader group, it was world No. 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 crunch pars on the eighth hole, where he chipped in, and the par-four 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-three 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. And even though the back nine did not go as per plans, 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-five 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 1 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.

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