MEXICO CITY — Success has come quickly for Shubhankar Sharma, and the Mexico Championship is no exception.
Sharma hit a 3-wood that landed on the green and settled 2 feet away for an eagle on the opening hole at Chapultepec Golf Club. He finished with three straight birdies for a 5-under 66. And in his first World Golf Championship, he takes a two-shot lead into the weekend.
“I worked all my life to come and play at a high stage like this,” said Sharma, who turned pro when he was 16. “You have to expect great things from yourself if you want to play at a high stage. I just try and not think of anything before I start. I just try and concentrate on the success, and just let things go.”
Sharma overcame a pair of three-putt bogeys early in his round and was at 11-under 131.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia had a 65 and was two shots behind, along with Xander Schauffele (66) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (67).
Sharma’s greatest asset is stable mind, and he has not shown any moments of being overwhelmed.
Even so, there has been a few surreal moments, such as warming up the range before the second round.
Jordan Spieth, the British Open champion and former No. 1 in the world, was hitting balls behind him. And then when Spieth left, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson took his place. It was hard for Sharma not to glance at over his shoulder.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said.
And then it got better.
Sharma had such control over his game that he putted for birdie on every hole except the par-4 eighth, where he escaped from the trees into a bunker, blasted out to 12 feet and saved par. He shot 31 on the back, finishing with a gap wedge he hammered to 10 feet for a final birdie, and he walked off the green to a big ovation.
Russell Knox is the only other player to win a World Golf Championship in his debut, at the 2015 HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
So much more is at stake.
Sharma, the only two-time winner on the European Tour this season who leads the Race to Dubai, is No. 75 in the world. Still in his sights is a chance to move into the top 64 after next week to get into the Dell Match Play in Texas, and he has an outside chance of getting into the Masters.
And to think that just three months ago, he had yet to win anywhere in the world. Then, he shot 61 in the second round on his way to winning the Joburg Open. Last month, he closed with a 62 to win the Malaysian Open.
Now he’s 36 holes away from a World Golf Championship.
“Everything has happened so fast for me,” Sharma said. “In the past four months, my life has totally change. Obviously, the final destination for me is the PGA Tour. That’s always been my dream. Just playing well here this week will get my closer to my dream.”
And yet he still has a long way to go.
Schauffele, a two-time winner as a rookie last year on the PGA Tour, has managed to go bogey-free at Chapultepec over two rounds, remarkable because the poa greens following a week of rain have been bouncing more than rolling, especially in the afternoon.
Hardly anyone knew much about Schauffele last year before he played well at the U.S. Open, and then won the Greenbrier Classic and Tour Championship. He at least knows a little about the rising star from India.
“He’s 21 years old, and he just won a tournament and has a locker right next to mine,” Schauffele said.
Ten players were within four shots of the lead going into the weekend, a group that includes defending champion Dustin Johnson, who holed a wedge from 112 yards for eagle on the ninth hole and shot a 66. He was in the large group at 7-under 135.
“My favorite thing about that is I didn’t have to putt,” Johnson said.
What made him smile was something he found Thursday night on YouTube, of all places. Johnson saw a video of someone analyzing his swing, and it made him realize his right arm was not in the right position. He tried in on the range with his first shot and suddenly felt everything fall into place.
“I have a lot of confidence going into the weekend,” Johnson said.
Sharma just wants to be keep in rolling. He missed the cut each of the last two weeks in Oman and Qatar, and then flew 10 time zones to Mexico City. He leaves Sunday night for New York and then to New Delhi, where he plays the Hero Indian Open on his home course.
He wasn’t surprised to be playing well. He wasn’t expecting much.
“It’s my first WGC and I was happy that I’ll play four days,” he said. “So I just wanted to have fun. And yeah, I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Kang takes 4-shot LPGA lead
SINGAPORE — The distraction of a chipped tooth proved to be no problem for Danielle Kang as she shot an 8-under 64 to take a four-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Women’s World Championship on Friday.
Kang, who won last year’s Women’s PGA Championship for her first major title, equaled the course record at the Sentosa Golf Club to lead the LPGA tournament at 12-under 132.
“Never too bad to tie a course record,” Kang said. “That’s interesting to hear. I like that.”
Nelly Korda, whose sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour event in Thailand last week, had a 66 to be tied for second with fellow American Alex Marina (67) while Minjee Lee (66), Cristie Kerr (67) and Chella Choi (69) were a further stroke back at 7-under.
Kang, who discovered she had broken a tooth after falling asleep while stretching before shooting a 68 in Thursday’s opening round, had eight birdies, four on the front nine and another four after rounding the turn, to post her second straight bogey-free round.
“(My) game is coming easy right now. There are lots of birdies out there. I’m more focused on being present and just hitting the shots. I’m hitting it well, rolling the putt well. So I’m not really worried about the results of how those shots come out. It feels like just a cruising day.”
Kang said her cracked tooth was not painful, but she could still feel it each time she swung the club.
“Every time I hit a shot, I’m like, it keeps scratching — it’s raw here, but it’s OK. I just don’t chew on this side. I’ll be fine,” she said.
“My dentist told me, I’ve chipped another one before, and he said, ‘You don’t break it at that moment’. It’s been broken and it just chips off. So I don’t know how it broke.”
Korda birdied four of her last six holes as she bids to emulate her siblings by winning tournaments this year. Apart from Jessica winning in Thailand with a tournament-record total of 25-under last week, their brother Sebastian won the Australian Open junior boys’ singles tennis title in Melbourne in January.
Their father is 1998 Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda.
“We obviously have a little bit of a sibling rivalry, but everything is very friendly,” Korda said. “ She (Jessica) does make me want to be a better player, and seeing her win last week after the tough off-season she’s had was definitely very inspiring, and hopefully I can step my game up this week and take it home, but we’ll see.”
Jessica Korda (70) reached the halfway point at 6-under, level with Austin Ernst (67), Lizette Salas (67), Charley Hull (68) and Ha Na Jang (68), while several other big names lost ground.
Top-ranked Shanshan Feng finished at 4-under after a second consecutive 70 while Michelle Wie lost ground with a 73 and overnight leader Jennifer Song stumbled with a 75, including a quadruple-bogey eight on the par-4 third.
Pair leading Champions event
TUCSON, Ariz. — Scott Dunlap and Tommy Tolles topped the Cologuard Classic leaderboard at 8-under 65, with Steve Stricker a stroke back Friday in a bid for his first PGA Tour Champions title.
Dunlap closed his bogey-free round on Omni Tucson National’s Catalina Course with birdies on par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth.
“I was thinking going into this week, I haven’t used up much of my good golfing quota at Tucson National over the years,” Dunlap said. “We played here in college, I played mini-tour events here, I played regular tour events here, and now I’m playing the PGA Tour Champions here. I’ve always liked the golf course. I’ve done OK, but nothing great. So, today was kind of special to hit it good and make some putts, too.”
Tolles, playing in the last group off the first tee, birdied the par-4 18th for a share of the lead. He also had a bogey-free day.
“All in all, very happy with 8 under,” Tolles said. “I haven’t played a lot of competitive golf the last 10 years, so it was kind of a learning experience.”
Stricker played the four par 5s in 5 under, with an eagle on the second and three birdies.
“We’re only a third of the way done,” Stricker said. “It’s a long ways to go yet, but a good start, which I’m happy about. Hopefully, put two more up just like that.”
Stricker finished second last year in his senior debut. The 12-time PGA Tour winner tied for second two weeks in Florida in the Chubb Classic, his fifth top-three finish in seven career senior starts.
University of Illinois coach Mike Small matched Stricker at 66.
“I made some putts today,” Small said. “I’ve got to be a little stronger tomorrow with some of my around-the-green shots.”
Stricker played at Illinois and has known Small for more than 30 years.
“He’s doing a bang-up job at Illinois in the golf program, and he plays well,” Stricker said. “We’re giving him a spot again at our tournament in Madison to come up and play. He’s a good guy. He still plays great golf and he embodies everything a professional golfer and a good person should be, so it’s cool to see him playing well.”
Gene Sauers opened with a 67, and Bernhard Langer, Billy Mayfair and Woody Austin shot 68.
Langer birdied three of the last four holes, holing a 60-footer on 18. The 60-year-old German star won seven times last season, three of the victories in majors.
“Just trying to get my game in shape where I have a lot of confidence in everything, the long game, the short game, and then hopefully take that into the Masters,” Langer said.
Defending champion Tom Lehman, playing alongside Stricker, had a 71.
Len Mattiace also shot 71 in his senior debut. The two-time PGA Tour winner turned 50 in October.
Vijay Singh opened with a 72.
John Daly was last in the 78-player field with an 80. He had one birdie, six bogeys and a double bogey on the par-5 15th.