Shubhankar Sharma produced a brilliant burst of scoring around the turn as he fired a flawless 65 to lead the 2023 Horizon Irish Open by one shot after Thursday’s first round.
The 27-year-old carded an eagle and five birdies as well as pulling off a series of impressive par saves in pleasant afternoon conditions at The K Club.
Sharma’s seven-under-par total saw him sit one stroke ahead of Thomas Bjørn, Marcel Schneider, Kristian Krogh Johannessen, Jordan Smith and Ross Fisher.
Hurly Long, Julien Brun, Mikael Lindberg, Wu Ashun, Joost Luiten and Zander Lombard were another shot back on five under, one ahead of home favourites Shane Lowry and Mark Power, who is making his professional debut this week.
Starting from the tenth tee on Thursday afternoon, Sharma opened up with a birdie from close range before keeping his card clean with a 23-foot par putt on the par-three 14th.
The Indian star made back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th courtesy of putts from around 13 feet, before a hole-out eagle at the 18th took him to five under and earned €300 for charity through the Birdies for Wishes campaign.
After sandwiching a ten-foot par save between birdies at the second and fourth, Sharma nervelessly holed two more key par putts on the fifth and sixth to remain one shot clear at the top of the leaderboard.
Sharma gave himself further birdie chances at the seventh and eighth but had to settle for pars there before closing his round with another par on the ninth.
He said: “It was really solid. I hit the ball pretty good.
“I made a lot of putts on the back nine, which was my front nine, and the round kind of got even better when I made that third shot at the 18th. I holed out from 105 yards. That got me to five under, and the front nine was solid again, which was my back nine.”
Sharma was pleased with his putting, adding: “I haven’t seen the stats but I’m sure I gained some strokes on the field with my putting.
“It was one of those days that the hole grew bigger and bigger. Really pleased, yes. I was great off the tee but putter would be number one.”