CARNOUSTIE (SCOTLAND), July 21 (PTI): Rising star Shubhankar Sharma presented himself a birthday gift by becoming the youngest Indian golfer to make the cut in any Major but Anirban Lahiri failed to progress at The 147th Open Championships here.
Hanging by a thread till the final putt on the 18th, Sharma capped a wonderful back nine to snatch a birdie and make the halfway cut, a day before his 22nd birthday.
Playing on a wet and cold day, Sharma warmed the hearts of the Indian fans at the Carnoustie Golf Links with four birdies against one bogey on the tougher back nine to climb out of a hole at 5-over through 27 holes.
With rounds of 73-71 he is now 2-over 144 and sure to be inside at the cut line. He was lying tied 53 and is likely to move up a few more positions.
Lahiri ended a very disappointing week with just one birdie in 36 holes as he added 74 to his first 76 and finished 8-over to exit early.
Before leaving he wished Sharma luck, saying, “It is always a big moment when you play the weekend at the Major for the first time. He has gone through a tough time recently and I am sure he will do well. This is a great birthday present for him.”
The birdie on the 18th was one of the four he had on the tough back nine.
Sharma said, “I am so, so excited right now. At the 18th I still thought I just needed to make a par because so many players have yet to finish. After the putt dropped I was definitely very happy.
“I have never played in such wet and cold conditions, changing towels and gloves so often.”
About standing on the final tee with his total reading 3-over, he said, “After the tee shot, I just wanted to put the ball somewhere on the green and 2-putt for par. But I hit a brilliant second shot to get to 5-6 feet.
“My caddie Vicky said it was from the left and I said no way and felt it was straight. I could not think much as we were on the clock and I just hit straight and it dropped. It was sweet as it dropped but before that it was nerve-wracking.”
The cut line was hovering between 2-over and 3-over, but Sharma seemed to have made sure at 2-over.
India’s other challenger, Lahiri, who was 5-over in the first round was 1-over through seven holes and at 6-over, he needed a Shubhankar-like back nine to get him into weekend rounds.
The 2007 Masters and 2015 Open champion Zach Johnson rose to the top of the leaderboard after a splendid 4-under 67 in testing conditions when wind and rain both hampered the players in the morning.
He was 6-under through 36 holes, and the first round leader, Kevin Kisner joined him after double bogeying the 18th. Rookie at the Open, Zander Lombard was also 6-under but had three more holes to play.
The 2017 Race to Dubai champion on European Tour, Tommy Fleetwood, who was second at US Open, looked set for a charge, as he played the best round of the week at 6-under 65 to get to 5-under 137, where he was joined by Pat Perez (68), who bogeyed the last.
Also at 5-under was Tony Finau, who had two holes to play.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson exited with rounds of 76-72, as did two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson (75-73), but Tiger Woods fought his way with 71-71 and was in the middle of the pack at even par for two rounds.
Rory McIlroy (69-69) was tied 7th alongside Erik Van Rooyen (71), Matt Kuchar (68) and Xander Schauffele.
Sharma, who earlier in the year missed cuts at Masters and US Open, said he would celebrate this with a good meal with his dad, Col ML Sharma, coach Jesse Grewal and a few friends.
“I am sure my friends will be calling and congratulating. Making the cut at the Major, which has always been my ‘dream’. Major is the best present I could have got. But I still have two more rounds to play, if I make the cut.”
Typical of him, Sharma was not getting ahead of himself as he added, “I hope I get in first (at 2-over). Hopefully I will make the cut. It is my favourite Major and I have always wanted to play at an Open.”
Asked to recall the first time he saw an Open, he said, “The first time was probably 2003 or 2004, but even though I was playing golf even before that, I didn’t know how big the tournament was because no one in my family knew much about golf.”
He went on, “The first Open I can recall vividly is the 2006 edition in Liverpool when Tiger (Woods) won. It was something like here and it was all about players using irons.”
Going back to his round, when he was 3-over for the day and 5-over for the tournament, Sharma said, “This is definitely the best finish I have had.”