Shubhankar Sharma became the youngest Indian to clinch the Asian Tour Order of Merit on Saturday, a result of a groundbreaking season he has had in 2018. The Indian won it even before the finish of the last two events of the year.

Sharma, who has led the Habitat for Humanity Order of Merit from February this year kept his nose ahead all the time.

After finishing tied sixth at the Hong Kong Open, which was his 11th start in a row and 15th in 16 weeks from the Open de France in June-July, Sharma skipped the Queen’s Cup, Mauritius Open and the South African Open, despite a late challenge being mounted by South African Justin Harding. However this week, Harding missed the cut and any chance he had of overtaking Sharma.

The 22-year-old, became the fifth and the youngest Indian to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit. He joins Indian golfing legends like Jyoti Randhawa (2002), Arjun Atwal (2003), Jeev Milkha Singh (2006 and 2008) and Anirban Lahiri (2015).

None of the previous Indian winners of the Asian Tour Order of Merit were below 30 when they reached the top, while Sharma is just 22. Jeev is the only one in the list to win the Merit honours twice.

“The Asian Tour Order of Merit was something very significant for me, as were many of the other milestones, but with this I have followed in the footsteps of golfers like Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh and Anirban Lahiri, all of whom I look up to and who have been very encouraging to me,” said Sharma.

Sharma is due to make his final start of 2018 at the BNI Indonesia Masters next week in Jakarta, where he will also be officially crowned as Asian Tour’s No. 1.

The latest success rounds off a superb year for Sharma, who followed up his first Asian European Tour win at Joburg Open in mid-December, by winning the Malaysian Championships in February.

The young golfer, who at one time led both Asian and European Tour Order of Merits, went on to achieve his career-best World Ranking of 64 by finishing tied ninth on his WGC debut in Mexico and then finishing tied seventh at Hero Indian Open.

Sharma’s cheque of $500,000 from Malaysia gave him a headstart in the merit race.

He went on to play all four Majors, as he was invited by the Augusta National Golf Club, and qualified for other three Majors, and also played all four WGC events.

He also topped the race for the European Tour’s Rookie of Year and won the Sir Harry Cotton Award.

During the year, he was also honoured with the Arjuna Award, presented to him by the President of India.

Sharma’s highlights of the year included the win in Malaysia, Top-10s in WGC-Mexico (T-9); Hero Indian Open (T-7); CIMB Classic (T-10) and Hong Kong Open (T-6).

With PTI inputs