Shubhankar back to scene of success in Steel City

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A winner here in 2016, Shubhankar Sharma starts one of the favourites at this week's Tour Championship.
A winner here in 2016, Shubhankar Sharma starts one of the favourites at this week's Tour Championship in Jamshedpur.

The excitement is palpable as we’re set for the Tata Steel Tour Championship, the PGTI’s season-ending event to be staged at the Beldih & Golmuri Golf Courses in Jamshedpur from December 16 – 19.

The star-studded field will be highlighted by some of Indian golf’s biggest names Shubhankar Sharma (2-time European Tour winner), Gaganjeet Bhullar (8-time Asian Tour winner) and SSP Chawrasia (4-time European Tour winner), along with the top-60 from the PGTI’s Order of Merit.

 

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There’s a lot to play for with Rs 1.5 crore on offer as total prize money. The Order of Merit race too enters its final stretch with multiple contenders in the fray for the crown of Order of Merit champion. Several players will also be competing to cement their places in the top-10 of the PGTI’s merit list in order to earn themselves country spots to play on the Asian Tour in the future.

Two of the pre-tournament favourites Shubhankar and Gaganjeet return to Jamshedpur with some fond memories as the former won the 15th TATA Open 2016 in his last appearance in the Steel City while the latter is the defending champion having won with an astonishing total of 24-under 264 last year.

Shubhankar, who recently retained his card on the European Tour with three top-10 and two top-20 finishes towards the end of the season in Europe, said, “I have wonderful memories from Jamshedpur as I vividly remember 2016 and the last putt I made to win that event. It was one of my biggest wins back then. Hopefully, I can repeat what I did in 2016.

“I’ve played events here across both courses. It’s different but I like it. Both courses are quite different. It’s great to finish the tournament at Beldih because of the tight greens there. It will make for a fascinating finale.

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“I’ve had a long season this year as I was playing in Europe from April to October. I learnt a lot about myself and my game during this period. I wasn’t playing well to begin with but everything came together after July. I’m really happy with how I managed myself. That has given me a lot of confidence for the next season,” added Shubhankar, currently the highest ranked Indian in the world at 285.

 

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Gaganjeet said, “It’s so good to get back on the golf course where you have won and that too the biggest tournament on the PGTI. Jamshedpur is very close to my heart because my father lived here back in the day. I had so many family friends walking with me and cheering for me last year. The whole atmosphere was electrifying and positive. So glad to be back here.

“This is a unique format and it’s not easy to adapt to the two courses. Add to that the 15 to 20 minute drive between the two courses. You get time to warm up again when you reach the second venue. Both courses are quite different. Beldih has small, squarish, table-top greens, one hitting close always has an advantage there. Golmuri has quite a few par-5s so you can actually go for it. So it’s a good mix.

“It’s been a mixed season for me. I actually played well in a few events but my scores were not up to the mark considering the intense competition on the European Tour. But I’ve been keeping my body in shape and working on my game, including a few swing changes. I’m definitely heading closer to the best I can perform.”

 

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The Order of Merit title winner at the end of this week’s event is set to earn a four-year exemption on the PGTI. Therefore, the race for the title is intense and could go down to the wire with Rs. 22,50,000 on offer as the winning purse.

Karandeep Kochhar, a two-time winner in the 2020-21 season, currently leads the order of merit with season’s earnings of Rs 49,59,880. He is being chased by Chikkarangappa (Rs. 46,04,630), Olympian Udayan Mane (Rs. 36,22,275), Yuvraj Singh Sandhu (Rs. 36,19,600), Khalin Joshi (Rs. 35,89,208) and Viraj Madappa (Rs. 34,74,800) occupying the next five spots on the money list.

Karandeep, who has the chance of breaking Rashid Khan’s 2019 season’s earnings record of Rs. 66,27,650, said, “The last two months have not been up to my standards. But I played well the last two weeks in Asia and that really helped me get things going once again.

“I think it will be a tough fight for the Order of Merit this week with so many contenders. It would be a good test for the professionals to play well across both the courses. My focus would be to play some quality golf and put four good rounds together to end the season well.”

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