Abu Dhabi, Jan 19: Shubhankar Sharma, runner-up at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships 2022 showed his liking for the Yas Links course, with a bogey-free start of 5-under 67 that put him three behind the 45-year-old Luke Donald, who will captain the 2023 Ryder Cup team in Rome later this year.
With a first round 67 under his belt, Sharma smiled and said, “The day’s job is done. So it’s time to relax. I’m thinking of going to the Ferrari World today. I didn’t go there even last year, which was very hectic event as there were a few delays. So could not even step out of the room and go anywhere. But today I have time.”
Sharma with 67 was tied fifth as leader Donald with nine birdies against one bogey shot 8-under. Australian Jason Scrivener was 7-under with two eagles, five birdies and two bogeys, alongside Italian Guido Migliozzi, who had an eagle and five birdies. Irishman Seamus Power making his first appearance in Abu Dhabi had six birdies in a bogey-free effort for fourth spot.
Tied with Sharma at 5-under was 2019 Open winner, Shane Lowry, Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura, Sami Välimäki and Swede Sebastian Soderberg. Former champions in Abu Dhabi, birthday boy Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson were among those to card 4-under 68.
Sharma, who said it was still dark when he came to the range and hit balls under the lights, was in the second group this morning from the first tee. He got off to a great start with a 15-footer for birdie on the first and then hit some great approaches and putted cleanly for three more on the front nine.
Making the turn in 4-under, he made some clutch par putts on the back nine and closed the day with a great second shot on the 18th and rounded it off with a neat chip to inside five feet for a birdie.
Sharma said, “I played really well. Bogey free, which is always nice. My putting was really solid. I made a lot of clutch par putts; a lot of 4-5 footers; these greens are really fast. So some of the putts can get really away and then you have a really long return putt. I was able to make all of those and always great to finish with a birdie on the last.”
He added, “When we started when I was at the range in the morning, it was dark, they had the lights on. It wasn’t too windy in the morning, the wind started picking up around the third and fourth hole, but it was still quite benign till the ninth.
“From the tenth it really picked up, so back nine was a lot more windy. So you had to work the ball both ways in order to stop the ball close to the pin, so it was a good test. But I held on. I made a lot of good par putts. And then I made that lone birdie on the 18th.”
Donald, who was overseeing the Hero Cup between Continental Europe and Great Britain & Ireland last week, smiled and said, “I think maybe a little inspired by watching some good golf from last week.”
He added, “”I putted very nicely today other than one three-putt on the third hole for my only bogey. I made a lot of good putts. I made a couple of long ones, but just was very tidy.”
Donald started from the tenth in the morning and made nine birdies in all, with his only blemish coming at the third. He closed the round with four successive birdies to set the early clubhouse target at eight under par.
Donald spent last week at Abu Dhabi Golf Club watching Continental Europe beat GB&I to win the inaugural Hero Cup. The Englishman felt his round was inspired by last week’s tournament.
Donald added: “I actually came into this year with higher expectations than I’ve had in a while, just for my own game. You know when you’re swinging reasonably well. I feel like I’ve done some good work on my long game with Jamie Gough, and I’ve done some good work with my short game with Pat Goss. It’s not totally surprising that I shot 64 today. The last couple of days I’ve been hitting it nicely, swinging well.”