Shubhankar Sharma followed in Rory McIlroy’s footsteps to achieve two firsts at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg: He won his first European Tour event and earned his debut start in the Open Championship.
Sharma became the first player since McIlroy to convert a 20-under-par 54-hole score into victory. McIlroy achieved that feat in the 2015 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Sharma turned his 20-under score into 23 under by returning a closing 69 to win the $1.2 million Joburg Open.
“It feels absolutely wonderful to have won this week,” Sharma said. “I actually wasn’t going to come here about a week ago, so I’m really happy that I came. I don’t think I’m ever going forget my first time in South Africa.”
The 21-year-old Sharma defeated home favorite Erik van Rooyen by three shots. Shaun Norris finished tied for fifth with Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen. Sharma, van Rooyen and Norris earned spots into next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie courtesy of being the top three players not already exempt. South African Norris got the third spot over Pulkkanen courtesy of a higher world ranking.
Sharma had to wait an extra day to win his maiden European Tour title after dangerous weather forced suspension of the final round. He still had 10 holes to left when play was called at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The 21-year-old returned and birdied the ninth hole to get to 23 under. Nine straight pars on the inward half saw him over the finishing line.
“I wanted to make one birdie before the turn and I made that,” Sharma said. “The back nine was fairly good. I made a few key up-and-downs.
“Mentally, I was really calm. Obviously I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up like three times. It was raining so hard. It kept hitting the window and I kept waking up. I’m so happy that it’s finished now and I won. Now I will go back home and celebrate with my family.”
The five-time PGA Tour of India winner earned a check for approximately $191,000. More importantly, the victory gives him full European Tour status until the end of 2019.