Sharma gives up gains near the end, shoots 73; Hatton Fitzpatrick lead in Dubai

Shubhankar Sharma with his coach, Jesse Grewal at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Dubai, November 17: Shubhankar Sharma seemed set for a good start as he was well placed at 2-under through 14 holes when things went wrong as he dropped three bogeys in a row in the first round of the DP World Tour Championship on Thursday.

Sharma, who came into Dubai riding high on a superb third place finish at the high-profile Nedbank Challenge last week, had three birdies against one bogey on fourth before he dropped shots on 15th, 16th, and 17th to go over par for the day. Three three-putts and a bad shot or two spoilt what could have been a good day when there was some good scoring at the top of the leaderboard.

Winner of four Rolex Series events, Tyrell Hatton and the reigning US Open champion shared the lead with cards of seven-under 65 each on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Alex Noren of Sweden was sole third with 66, while the Spaniard Adri Arnaus was shot 67. Last week’s winner Tommy Fleetwood, who has a mathematical chance of winning the Race to Dubai, was among the pack of five tied fifth with 68 each.

Sharma is returning to the DP World Tour Championship for the first time since 2018, when he had rounds of 67-66 on the second and third days before crashing down with a final round of 80. He was tied 41st after being inside Top-10 following the first three days. That was his first and only start at the DP World Tour Championship.

“Three three-putts, on the fourth, 15th and 16th cost me a lot. Then the ball caught the slope and rolled down after landing on the green on 17th,” said Sharma. “Three days still to go, but this could have a lot better.”

Talking of his previous visit to the event, four years ago, Sharma said, “I am a different and much better player now than at that time. More mature and I have a lot more shots.” His coach, Jesse Grewal, who is here with him this week, agreed.

Fitzpatrick began in a brilliant manner, holing everything from everywhere. He was five-under through five holes. Though the birdies did not come at a pace anywhere like that, he still managed two more on eighth and 14th, but most importantly kept bogeys off his card.

Fitzpatrick, who did not come for the media interview before the event because of a sore throat, was thrilled with the round. He said, “I was laughing to be honest. I literally said to Billy (caddie) in yesterday, when we won in 2020, didn’t we have four a row? And then we did four in a row, and then we laughed about that and I made a fifth. It was a nice start to the day.”

Despite winning here twice before, Fitzpatrick’s 65 was his lowest round here. I think the biggest thing I’m pleased about today is just hitting 17 greens, and the one I missed, I was a complete idiot. That was the big thing that I was happy about today is that I kept giving myself chances and putted well as well.”

He did not want to speculate on winning the DP World Rankings and said, “I have no idea how they (Rory McIlroy and Ryan Fox, the top two currently) are getting on. The way they are playing this week, it seems that it really is one shot at a time and you’ve got to be on your ball.”

Hatton may well have been the sole leader, but for a bogey on the closing 18th, where he went into the bunker, did not come out well and then when he did get to the green in four, he two-putted. Yet, it was his best opening round here by four shots. Hatton admitted, “I’m surprised to hear it’s my lowest round to start with. Obviously it was a good day. Hit a lot of good shots. Putter was great. Kind of happy with that start. Although my head’s a bit fried at the moment. My mind is just raging at the last there. But it is what it is.”

The points leader, McIlroy, who can win the Race to Dubai rankings only by winning this week, needed a birdie on the last to finish in red number at 1-under 71. Yet, at the start he looked to be cruise mode at 3-under through eight holes with four birdies against just one bogey. Then he bogeyed ninth, 12th and 16th to drop to even par before the closing birdie made it under par for the day.

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