(Reuters) - Shubhankar Sharma made an eye-opening World Golf Championships debut as the Indian prospect carded a six-under-par 65 in the first round at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Thursday.
Already twice a winner this season on the European Tour, the 21-year-old proved himself equally at home among the most elite of company, ending the day one stroke behind South African leader Louis Oosthuizen.
“I’m really pleased with the way I played. I was very nervous in the morning, but very happy with the way I put it all together,” Sharma said after sticking his approach to two feet for birdie at his final hole.
The hot start was another small step towards what Sharma hopes will be an appearance in next month’s U.S. Masters.
Despite recent victories in South Africa and Malaysia, and leading the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings, Sharma has yet to qualify for the first major of the year.
Currently ranked 75th in the world, he has only four weeks left to move into the top 50 and punch his ticket to Augusta.
The Masters has a tradition of occasionally inviting a non-exempt Asian player, raising the intriguing possibility that Sharma might yet receive a prized summons, even if he doesn’t qualify automatically.
But he would rather make it a moot point and with a strong finish could qualify as early as this week. With the nerves settled, it is full steam ahead.
“To be honest, I’m actually relaxed now,” he said. “I just wanted the first round to get out of the way,” said Sharma, who has been hooked on golf ever since he was introduced to the game by his father as a six-year-old.
“You’re always very happy when you start with such a low round, especially for me. This is such a big event, I would say this is taking some pressure off me, playing well on this course.”
Sharma had a chip-in eagle at the first hole (his 10th) and added four birdies on the Club de Golf Chapultepec course, which at its highest point is 7,835 feet (2,388 meters) above sea level, and plays much shorter than its 7,345 yards.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien