For the second time in as many weeks, Shubhankar Sharma went into the final round of a tournament in the lead. And for the second straight time, Sharma faltered in the last lap. He held a two-stroke lead at the World Golf Championships in Mexico and a joint one-stroke edge at the Indian Open at his home course at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram on Sunday.
And just as the 21-year-old had closed with a 3-over par score in Mexico to finish T-9th, he carded a three over par 75 in Gurugram to finish T-7th.
It was a disappointing end to a week that saw him receive an invitation to the Augusta Masters and also card the tournament record score of 64 in the second round in Gurugram. Three double bogeys on the fifth, seventh and 15th holes and bogeys on the 10th, 13th and 16th holes saw him fall down the leaderboard to finish seven strokes behind eventual winner Matt Wallace.
Sharma made few excuses for his performances. "I just hit bad shots. It's just that sort of course. You hit one bad shot and you get penalised for it," Shubhankar said about the course, adding, "That's what happened to me in the fifth hole. I was between yardages. I should have hit a seven and I hit a six iron which went into the water. That double bogey was costly."
While the course is considered among the most challenging on the European tour, Shubhankar said he was taken by surprise at finding the water hazard on the fifth, despite it being his home course. "I lost a bit of momentum on the fifth. I haven't hit water on that hole many times. I would think this was perhaps the second or third time I have ever hit water on that hole. I should have played a bit conservative there. hit a seven iron to the centre of the tee. But I hit a six iron with a soft cut. It was the wrong club. Even a seven iron would have got me to the pin. It was just a mistake that I made. That took me back," he said.
But while Sharma feels he could have played a bit cautiously, he admits that wouldn't have been natural to him. "I think I play aggressive but I [also] think I play smart. I don't think I go for stupid pins. If you have to shoot 62 or 64 like I did this week, you have to go for a few more pins or make a few more putts. I don't think I go crazy aggressive. I just try and control my aggression and try and go at pins I feel I can go at. I've always played this way. If I see a shot I think I can play, I go for it. That's always been my style of play. There are ups and downs and you go through both things. And sometimes you play really well and that's how the game is," he said.
And while the fifth and the seventh hurt his score, the stuffing was truly knocked out of him on the 11th hole. He had been eleven under par then, still in with a shot at the title. "If I had managed par, it might have been different. But you can't make two double bogeys when you are contending for the tournament. That took the wind out of my sails. But I am still very happy to make the top ten," he says.
For Sharma, there was still plenty to take from the tournament. "The good part is I hit six birdies and I would like to look on the bright side," he says.
In fact, Sharma had started his final round with two birdies on the first four holes and said he felt little pressure over the fact that he might win his third European Tour title of the season when he stepped on the course on Sunday morning.
He owed his calm simply to having been in the same situation in Mexico. "I think the last week prepared me for it. Because there were so many people walking with me on the last day. I was actually very happy playing in front of my home crowd. I started really well. I wasn't timid or nervous in the morning but just hit a few bad shots which is part of the game," he said.
And while the round deteriorated after a bright start, Sharma is grateful he was in a good position to win the title to begin with. "I'm very happy that I have been able to put myself in contention in both weeks and at the same time I realise I couldn't really finish it off. But I have won it twice this season. I won in Johannesburg where I led from the start and Maybank Open. where no one saw me coming and I shot a 10-under on the final day. It's that sort of game. You have to be very levelheaded and take your losses. Your losses make you stronger. This just goes in my memory bank. The next time I am in the lead, I will try and do better," he said.