Shubhankar Sharma was in joint lead after 54 holes for the second time in a PGA Tour event, as he carded 6-under 66 to reach 19-under 197 at the TPC Kuala Lumpur West course Saturday.
Sharma, who held sole lead at the end of 54 hole at WGC0-Mexico, earlier this year, is tied with overnight co-leaders Gary Woodland (67) and Marc Leishman (67). Sharma had seven birdies and the day’s lone bogey came after a gap of 21 holes since the second hole, his 11th hole on Friday.
That also means Sharma will play in the lead group of a PGA Tournament only the second time in his career. It is also the second time at the CIMB Classic, that an Indian player has had at least a share of the lead after 54 holes Anirban Lahiri was leader by four shots after three days in 2015, when Justin Thomas came from behind and won the title.
A win on Sunday will seal Sharma’s berth at the Augusta Masters, a spot on Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and also the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
Only one Indian, Arjun Atwal has won a PGA Tour title, the Wyndham Championships in 2010, and the next best finish in a PGA Tour event has been T-2 by Lahiri at the Memorial in 2017. Lahiri was also T-3 at 2015 CIMB.
Gaganjeet Bhullar (71) had three birdies against two bogeys to be 6-under 210 and T-42, while Anirban Lahiri (68) finally had some putts falling with six birdies, but he dropped a shot each on seventh and 17th. Lahiri was 2-under and T-64th. Rahil Gangjee (73) was lying 77th at 5-over for three days.
Sharma’s birdies came on second, third, fifth and seventh and then 10th, 13th and 17th. He missed a couple of short birdie putts, including a four-footer on 16th.
“Yes, I am very happy. I got off to a flyer, front nine was great as I was 4-under through seven. On the back nine I made a lot of crucial par putts and missed a few coming in, but really happy with the way I played and hung in there.”
He also pointed out the par save on eighth was rather crucial, at which point he was 4-under through seven holes.
“It (the par) was very important, it could have been a momentum changer. I hit a terrible shot and then had a bad lie and tried to hit a good shot but didn’t come off. Could have been a double bogey also, but that third chip was just perfect.
“I think that was the turning point for me. A bogey there would kind have pushed me back. It could have been a potential double as well because it was a tough chip as well.”
He showed a lot of confidence, and talked about Sunday’s plan. “I’ll just chill out, I won’t really do much. I’ll just go in, hang out probably with Rahil, maybe with Anirban, talk a little and just do normal stuff that I’ve been doing every day.
“Good thing is that I’ve been in this position before so I know what happens and what my mind goes through, so I’ll just try and relax myself as much as possible. And the way I’m playing, I’m pretty sure I’ll play well tomorrow as well.”
The leading trio was two shots ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen (65) and the first-round leader Bronson Burgoon (67).
The day’s lowest card came from the 2009 Open winner, Stewart Cink, who brought home a 63 and is now T-7 alongside five others.
Two-time CIMB winner, Justin Thomas (69) was 12-under and seven shots off the lead on another high-scoring day, when only as many as 60 of the 78 players shot in the 60s.