India’s Shubhankar Sharma survived some shaky moments to maintain his two-shot lead at the WGC Mexico Championship after the third round on Saturday.
Sharma, the 21-year-old Asian Tour Order of Merit leader whose European Tour wins this season at Johannesburg and the Maybank Championship have propelled him to number 75 in the world, is making his first start in an elite World Golf Championships event.
He’s vying to break into the top 50 in time to earn a Masters berth. With a win on Sunday he would become the youngest player to win a WGC event, eclipsing the mark of Patrick Reed who won the 2014 WGC Mexico Championship at 23 years old.
“I don’t really want to think about it,” Sharma said. “That would put too much pressure on me. I just want to go ahead and enjoy myself.
“Tomorrow will be a lot of fun with a lot of good players in the mix.”
Sharma hit 11 of 14 fairways – his highest total of the week – and 10 of 18 greens in regulation during his third round.
He had five birdies and three bogeys in his two-under par 69 at Club de Golf Chapultepec near Mexico City, where his 13-under par total of 200 put him two clear of five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
World number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson headed a group on 203 that also included 2017 US PGA Tour rookie of the year Xander Schauffele, Pat Perez and Brian Harman.
WOW what a leaderboard 😱. Couldn’t have scripted it better if we tried
1. Shubhankar Sharma (-13)
T2. Phil Mickelson (-11)
T2. Rafa Cabrera Bello (-11)
T2. Sergio Garcia (-11)
T6. Dustin Johnson (-10)
10. Justin Thomas (-9)
— Mexico Championship (@WGCMexico) March 3, 2018
Mickelson poised to strike
Sharma, leading by two to start the day, made a quick start with three birdies in his first six holes. He bounced back from a bogey at the eighth with a birdie at 11, but surrendered a shot at 13.
He rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt at 14 to reclaim sole possession of the lead, and he was two clear even after his bogey at 16.
He closed with a tremendous par save at the last, calmly rolling in a 15-foot putt to maintain his cushion as he tries to become the first player since Jim Benepe at the 1988 Western Open to win a first US PGA Tour title in his tour debut.
“I got off to a great start,” Sharma said. “Made a few mistakes coming in, but I’ve done a fairly good job of the distances and the yardages.”
Sharma will tee off on Sunday alongside Hatton and Mickelson. Hatton carded a 64 to join the group sharing second while the 43-year-old Mickelson posted a bogey-free 65.
Mickelson, chasing his first title wince the 2013 British Open, arrived in Mexico buoyed by three straight top-10 finishes.
“It’s been a long time since my game’s been back to this point,” he said. “I’m back playing some of my best Golf again.”
Mickelson said he wouldn’t get too concerned about whether that translates to a victory on Sunday.
“If it doesn’t, it’s going to happen soon because I’m playing too well for it not to,” he said.
American Justin Thomas rolled in a birdie on the first hole of a playoff to out-duel third round leader Luke List and win the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Thomas posted his eighth win on the USPGA Tour and his seventh victory in his last 31 tournaments.
“It was another level of difficulty, not only the amount of people I was trying to beat, but this golf course,” said Thomas.
“I am so proud of myself and how I played. When you get out of position you have to try to salvage par and that’s what I did.
“I just stayed patient. I know what to expect, how tough it can be, and it feels good to come out on top.”
Thomas closed with a two-under 68 to catch 54-hole leader List, who had a one-under 69. They both finished with an eight-under 272 total at the PGA National course.
Sweden’s Alex Noren shot a three-under 67 to finish alone in third, just one stroke back of the leaders.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood placed fourth after shooting a 69 to reach six-under 274 total, two shots adrift of Thomas and List.
Tiger Woods fired an even-par 70 in the fourth round for an even-par 280 total to land in 12th place.
Thomas hit a beautiful approach shot on the only hole of the playoff as his ball sailed over a bunker and landed on the green giving him a long downhill putt for birdie.
His first putt stopped four feet (1.2 meters) short but he made no mistake on the second putt for the victory that will move him into number three in the world rankings.
American List got into trouble off the tee as his drive on 18 went right and landed in the middle of a small cluster of trees. His next shot sailed way left over the gallery and into the grandstand fence. He two-putted for a par.
‘Stings a little bit’
“It is going to sting a little bit,” said List. “In a playoff, you can’t give Justin a par because he is going to hit birdies.”
Thomas’ final round was not without controversy. He tried to have a spectator removed on the 16th tee for heckling him and then had to apologize after the tournament for using a four-letter word on the green at 18 when he made the winning putt live on television.
“I feel pretty terrible and uncomfortable. Everybody heard that,” Thomas said.
Woods followed his 69 in the third round with a 70 on Sunday to finish eight shots back of the top spot on the difficult Florida golf course.
Saturday’s 69 was the first score in the 60s in nine rounds this year for the 14-time major winner, who returned to US PGA Tour competition late January at Torrey Pines after back problems.
“I made a big leap this week. I really hit it well,” said Woods, the former world number one.
Woods finished with four birdies, two bogeys and one double bogey on Sunday. He says his game and his problematic back are starting to feel good again and the key is to maintain his rigorous fitness routine.
“I played well this week,” he said. “Overall I am very pleased with the progress I have made.
“My body feels good. I need to keep it feeling good. I need to get back in the gym and keep it strong.”
Earlier this month, woods told a Los Angeles television station that the extended time off, due to injuries, has given him a new appreciation for golf fans.
“I have been home a lot. I haven’t been able to move much the last three months. So many people have just wished me well,” he said.
“I have been away from the game for a long enough time that I saw a side of the public I didn’t know.”
Joost Luiten fired a closing 68 to hold off the challenge of England’s Chris Wood and win the inaugural NBO Oman Open.
The Dutchman entered Sunday one shot ahead of Wood in a share of the lead but the two could not be separated at the turn.
The duo enjoyed an enthralling nip-and-tuck battle down the back nine but when Luiten holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th to get to 16 under and Wood bogeyed the next, the title was Luiten’s.
Wood finished alone in second at 14 under and it was an encouraging return to form the 2016 Ryder Cup player, who had missed his first three cuts of the season.
“I’m pretty down but in the grand scheme of things it’s night and day to how I’ve been,” he told europeantour.com.
“After a couple of days I’m sure I’ll reflect and see it’s a big step in the right direction this week.”
Wood hit the pin on the first and made a birdie to join the lead but a hat-trick of gains from the second moved Luiten three shots ahead.
A birdie on the sixth kept Wood within touching distance and when Luiten made back-to-back bogeys on the seventh and eighth, the pair were tied at the top.
Both men birdied the 12th but Luiten added another on the 13th and the leading pair both made further gains on the 16th before Wood’s late bogey handed Luiten some breathing space.
“It’s always tough to win out here, all these guys are so good and they keep putting pressure on you,” said Luiten.
“Down the stretch I hit some nice shots, I made some nice putts and it was a nice battle with my friend Woody.
“I need to win another couple to get into the Ryder Cup team but it’s a great start to the year for me.”
Frenchman Julien Guerrier finished third at 13 under, with England’s Robert Rock three shots further back, one ahead of countryman Matthew Southgate and Scot Stephen Gallacher.