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One for the ages: Sharma, 21, vs. Phil, 47

By Rex HoggardMarch 4, 2018, 12:29 am

MEXICO CITY – Who is Shubhankar Sharma?

For those who will find themselves asking the question on Sunday, take heart that the soft-spoken player from India is obscure even among the game’s play-for-pay set.

“I don't know, other than he's young. He's like 21, right?" laughed 24-year-old Justin Thomas. "Man, kids,” 

Even those who may have crossed paths with Sharma on the European Tour, which he qualified for with his victory in December at the Joburg Open, had only a passing knowledge.

“Relatively new,” Rafa Cabrera Bello shrugged. “I haven't really watched him play. I'm sure he's a very talented player, but I haven't had the opportunity to watch him play or play alongside him.”

It’s safe to say the world will be watching on Sunday when Sharma will set out at Chapultepec Golf Club with a two-stroke lead over the likes of Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia (with Dustin Johnson another stroke back) in the WGC-Mexico Championship. Sure, those names sound familiar.

But who is Shubhankar Sharma and how did he get from Gurugram, India, a suburb of New Delhi, to Mexico and one of the game’s marquee events?

This much we know:

Sharma turned pro at 16 and has spent the last five years playing in relative obscurity in Asia.

Before that Joburg Open breakthrough he didn’t have a victory on a major tour anywhere in the world, he didn’t have a European Tour card and he was 462nd in the world ranking.

From global journeyman to the doorstep of PGA Tour stardom in three months, Ferdinand Magellan didn’t cover that much ground.

He’s 21 going on 31 with a calm mind that has transcended the brightest lights of a World Golf Championship.

He’s not your prototypical modern professional. He doesn’t hit the golf ball miles, he’s not an imposing figure, standing just 5-feet-9, but through 54 holes he’s stood tall against the game’s titans – posting rounds of 65-66-69 for a 13-under total.

He’s playing his first Tour event and admitted that there has been a nonstop parade of surreal moments this week as he found himself side by side with the players he’s watched and idolized for years.

Oh, and he can putt - as evidenced by his 14-footer for par at the 18th hole on Saturday to secure the most unlikely of 54-hole advantages (as an aside, he also has a vintage fist pump).


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“Obviously a dream come true for me to be playing in this tournament and obviously leading, that's just fantastic,” Sharma said. “I made a few mistakes on the greens but the greens are tough this week so I think everyone's making a few mistakes. I wasn't too hard on myself. Very happy that I could grind out a par on the last hole.”

He will need more of that on Sunday. For all the unknowns that come with Sharma, there’s nothing but proven products lurking behind him.

On Thursday following a 72 that Thomas said was “probably the worst I've ever felt over the ball in my life,” last week’s winner at the Honda Classic was back in familiar form with a course-record 62 on Day 3 that lifted him into the top 10.

Just three strokes behind the surprise leader was Johnson, the defending champion who shot his sixth consecutive round in the 60s at Chapultepec (68) and sounded as ominous as ever.

“I feel like I'm in a really good position,” Johnson said. “I feel like the game's in really good form. So there is a low one in there, hopefully it's tomorrow.”

Garcia also kept the pressure on, offsetting two bogeys with four birdies for a 69 that left him tied for second place at 11 under.

But it will be Mickelson who will be waiting on the first tee on Sunday. At least Sharma got the introductions out of the way before Saturday’s round.

“Me and my caddie went up to [Mickelson]. He thought we were media and he said, ‘Not right now, after the round,’” laughed Sharma, who will be grouped with Mickelson and Tyrrell Hatton. “Then he just realized and said, ‘So sorry, I thought you were media.’ He said ‘hi.’ I said ‘hi.’ Then he made a few putts and he came back to me and said, ‘Have a good day.’ It was nice.”

That surreal moment aside, Mickelson is the only player Sharma introduced himself to this week. “Phil is a legend,” he said. For context, consider that when Sharma was born, Lefty already had 113 starts, eight wins and 25 top-10s on Tour.

Mickelson, who is coming off his most consistent stretch in years, having finished inside the top 10 in his last three starts, has played un-Phil-like golf for the first three days. He’s driven the ball well, putted well and made just a single bogey over his last 36 holes.

For a player who is nearly five years removed from his last victory (2013 Open Championship) the confidence has returned.

“I'm putting the ball in play better, my iron play's back, my short game is back, I've been putting well, so overall I've been playing well and the scores are starting to reflect it,” said Mickelson, who won this event (2009 at Doral) during a different era. “So I'll get that ‘W.’ I don't know if it's tomorrow, I don't know when, but it will be soon, and when I do, I think I'll start to peel off a few.”

But first he’ll have to outduel Sharma, whose most vivid images of the game are watching major championships as a child into the early hours back home in India.

For three days, Sharma has exuded a quiet confidence and a refreshing indifference to his situation. Depending on how things play out on Sunday he can move into the top 25 in the world ranking - the highest ranking by a player from India - secure a start in the next World Golf Championship in three weeks and, with a victory, earn a trip to his first major at Augusta National.

He could also drastically change the narrative, from who is Shubhankar Sharma to what will he do next?

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Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 8:52 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.

Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.


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Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.

After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.

“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”

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Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 5:44 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.

The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.

“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”


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It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.

Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.

“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”

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Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 5:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.

Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.

Not quite.

He’d simply made par.

“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.

Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.

“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.

Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.

“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

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USGA slows greens, alters hole locations for Sunday

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 3:29 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After admitting that it went too far with the setup Saturday at the U.S. Open, USGA officials made some modifications for the final round.

In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the surfaces nearly a foot on the Stimpmeter.


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


That was in anticipation of a sunny, dry forecast that calls for temperatures to reach 80 degrees and wind gusts up to 20 mph.

They said the setup for the final day is similar to what was used in Round 1, when officials braced for 30-mph winds.

Some of the hole locations were also adjusted based on the forecast – changes, the USGA said, that were meant to “maintain a challenge yet fair U.S. Open test.”