India’s Shubhankar Sharma said he was hoping to upset the odds at this week’s CIMB Classic as he hunts the Asian merit crown along with his PGA Tour card.
Sharma won February’s Maybank Championship in Kuala Lumpur and he returns to the Malaysian capital on top of the Asian Tour prize money standings ahead of the dual-sanctioned event.
It kicks off a swing of three big tournaments in Asia for the 21-year-old, along with next week’s CJ Cup in South Korea and the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
“My immediate goal is to win the Asian Tour order of merit. But this stretch for me, no doubt, is very, very important. Obviously all three events are big PGA Tour events. You have some of the best players in the world playing,” said Sharma, who failed to secure his PGA Tour card last season.
“It helps that the events are in Asia and I am so much more comfortable in the conditions here. If I just play well in these three events, have consistent finishes, I feel like I’ll get off to a very good start towards securing my PGA Tour card and it will obviously help my world ranking.
“We have a really good chance here and if I play well, in golf, anything is possible. I feel like I can win on a given day when I’m playing really well. I just want to get back to the same level that I was at the start of the year and then things will fall into place.”
Two-time champion and former world number one Justin Thomas, and fellow Ryder Cup player Paul Casey, headline the $7 million tournament along with defending title-holder Pat Perez.
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat is another top challenger from Asia, after winning the 2013 Malaysian Open on the same TPC Kuala Lumpur course – and he now returns after earning a full PGA Tour card for the coming season.
“When I was a kid, my goal was to be a part of the PGA Tour. It’s the biggest tour in the world,” the 29-year-old Thai said.
“Twenty years later, I hold a Tour card. I just can’t explain how it feels, but it is such a good moment for me to play my first PGA Tour event as a member in Asia.”
Sharma and Kiradech are bracketed in the same flight for the first two rounds of the tournament, starting Thursday, along with South Korea’s Korea’s Byeong Hun-an.