MEXICO CITY – Shubhankar Sharma stayed up in the middle of the night in India to watch golf at the highest level, usually the majors, and the best players became legends to him.
From the time he arrived in Mexico for his first World Golf Championship, he has been hitting balls on the range next to Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, and on Saturday he worked up the courage to introduce himself to Phil Mickelson on the putting green.
“It just feels like there’s a TV in front of me, and I’m actually watching it through a TV,” Sharma said.
Even more surreal? He’s beating them.
The 21-year-old from India held his nerve to the end and holed a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole at Chapultepec Golf Club for a 2-under 69, giving him a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Mexico Championship.
Sharma has one round left to hold off a few of golf’s biggest names — starting with Mickelson.
Mickelson played bogey-free for a 65 and will be in the final group for the first time since the British Open two years ago. Joining them will be Tyrrell Hatton of England, who went out in 30 and finished off a 64.
“It’s been a long time since my game’s been back to this point,” Mickelson said. “I’m back playing some of my best golf again. It will start to click and get better and better as the year goes on.”
As for winning for the first time since the 2013 British Open?
“I think whether it happens tomorrow or not — very good chance it will — but if it doesn’t, it’s going to happen soon because I’m playing too well for it not to.”
At least there won’t be any need for an introduction. Sharma took care of that Saturday when he saw Mickelson on the putting green as he was about to tee off. His caddie, Gurbaaz Mann, played at Arizona State and walked over with him to meet Mickelson.
Mickelson might have heard about Sharma, the only two-time winner on the European Tour this season.
He just didn’t recognize him.
“He thought we were media and he said, ‘Not right now. After the round,’ ” Sharma said with a smile. “Then he just realized it and said, ‘So sorry, I thought you were media.’ He said ‘Hi,’ I said, ‘Hi.’ Then he made a few putts and he came back to me and said, ‘Have a good day.’ It was nice.”
Sharma was at 13-under 200 and is one round away from capping an amazing rise.
Just three months ago, he had yet to win a tournament outside of India’s developmental circuit. He didn’t have a European Tour card. He was No. 462 in the world. A victory would be his third title in his last eight starts, and likely put him in the top 25.
He faces quite a test, however.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello each had a 69 and were in the group at 11-under 202. Garcia has never won a World Golf Championship.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5