Shubhankar Sharma, on Friday, became the youngest Indian golfer to make the cut in any Major after he capped a wonderful back nine to achieve the feat at the 147th Open Championships in Scotland.
Shubhankar gave himself the perfect 22nd birthday present with that final birdie on 18th. It was one of the four he had on the tough back nine.
“I am so, so excited right now. At the 18th I still thought I just needed to make a par because so many players have yet to finish. After the putt dropped I was definitely very happy. I have never played in such wet and cold conditions, changing towels and gloves so often.” said Shubhankar, who turns 22 on Saturday.
Playing on a wet and cold day, Shubhankar warmed the hearts of the Indian fans at the Carnoustie Golf Links with four birdies against one bogey on the tougher back nine to climb out of a hole at five-over through 27 holes.
With rounds of 73-71, he is now two-over 144 and sure to be inside at the cut line. He was lying tied 53rd and is likely to move up a few more positions.
About standing on the final tee with his total reading three-over, Shubhankar said, “After the tee shot, I just wanted to put the ball somewhere on the green and 2-putt for par. But I hit a brilliant second shot to get to 5-6 feet. "My caddie Vicky said it was from the left and I said no way and felt it was straight. I could not think much as we were on the clock and I just hit straight and it dropped. It was sweet as it dropped but before that it was nerve-wracking.”
The cut line was hovering between two-over and three-over, but Shubhankar seemed to have made sure at two-over.
India's other challenger Anirban Lahiri, who was five-over in the first round, was one-over through seven holes and at six-over he needed a Shubhankar-like back nine to get him into weekend rounds.
The top 70 and ties play the last two rounds.
2007 Masters and 2015 Open champion Zach Johnson rose to the top of the leaderboard after a splendid four-under 67 in testing conditions when wind and rain both hampered the players in the morning.
He was now six-under through 36 holes, but first round leader, Kevin Kisner was already right-under, though he had four more holes to play in the second round.
2017 Race to Dubai champion on European Tour, Tommy Fleetwood, who was second at US Open, looked set for a charge as he played the best round of the week at six-under 65 to get to five-under 137. Rory McIlroy (69-69) was tied sixth as the afternoon wave was still on the course.
World no. 1 Dustin Johnson exited with rounds of 76-72 as did two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson (75-73), but Tiger Woods fought his way with 71-71 and was in the middle of the pack at even par for two rounds.
With conditions likely to be good tomorrow, Woods could make the charge and then chase the leaders again on Sunday.
Shubhankar, who earlier in the year missed cuts at Masters and US Open, said he would celebrate this with a good meal with his dad Col ML Sharma, coach Jesse Grewal and few friends. But the bigger celebration will come later.
As for birthday celebrations, he added, “I am sure my friends will be calling and congratulating. Making the cut at the Major, which has always been my dream. Major is the best present I could have got. But I still have two more rounds to play."
Asked to recall the first time he saw an Open, he said, “The first time was probably 2003 or 2004, but even though I was playing golf even before that, I didn't know how big the tournament was because no one in my family knew much about golf.”
“The first Open I can recall vividly is the 2006 edition in Liverpool when Tiger (Woods) won. It was something like here and it was all about players using irons. That is the one I remember clearly and I saw all four rounds.”