Shubhankar Sharma and Gaganjeet Bhullar will lead the Indian challenge at the 15th Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, beginning on Thursday.

Sharma will play his first round with David Lipsky, who like the Indian, has won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in the past. Lipsky was Asian Tour No 1 in 2014 and Sharma achieved the same in 2018. The third player in the pairing will be Andrea Pavan and they will be the first to tee of in the afternoon on Thursday from the tenth tee.

The other Indian in the field is Gaganjeet Bhullar who will play with Gavin Green and James Morrison and they play at 8.10 am on Thursday from first tee. Sharma, who has been on the European Tour, ever since he won twice in a short period in Jo’burg and Kuala Lumpur, is playing in Abu Dhabi for the third time. He finished T-48 in 2018 and missed the cut last year.

“I have not done too well in these parts, but I have also matured in my game,” said Sharma. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is the first Rolex Series event of the year and gets underway with a pre-event Hero Challenge featuring world number one Brooks Koepka.

Koepka, who missed the President’s Cup due to injury, is keen to get back to top-level action and make a bid to add to his Major tally. “I love this place. The golf course is really good. It’s in great shape, even after all the rain that they have had here. It’s just a place I like coming to. I felt comfortable here and hopefully play well this week,” said Koepka.

On his return from injury, he added, “I miss competition. When you have three months off, it’s not fun, I know that. But it makes me appreciate the game more every time and hopefully I don’t have anymore of those situations.

Kartik, Pawan joint first round leaders

Amateur Kartik Sharma of the DLF Golf and Country Club, Gurugram and Delhi’s Pawan Verma took the joint first round lead at the PGTI’s Final Qualifying Stage for the 2020 season with identical scores of two-under-70.

While 19-year-old Kartik, one of India’s leading amateurs in recent years, drained five birdies in exchange for three bogeys, Pawan, the 2018 Feeder Tour Order of Merit champion, picked up seven birdies at the cost of five bogeys at the Kensville Golf & Country Club.

Kartik, who represented the international team at the Junior Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia last year, made three long birdie conversions from a range of 12 to 25 feet during his round.

Kartik, making his first attempt at the PGTI Qualifying School, said, “I played well in the Pre Qualifying having finished tied fourth in Pre Q I. I feel I’ve carried that momentum into the Final Stage.”

Bangladesh’s Md Sajib Ali and Gurugram’s Deepinder Singh Kullar were in tied third place with matching scores of one-under-71.

The top 80 players (+ ties) will make the cut after round two of the Final Qualifying Stage. At the end of round four, the top 38 players will earn their full cards for the 2020 PGTI season.