Kuala Lumpur: There are four Indians in the CIMB Classic field this week, the largest number of Indians in a PGA event ever. And it is the youngest of the lot, Shubhankar Sharma, 22, who leads the expectations. The others are the in-form Gaganjeet Bhullar, Anirban Lahiri — who has been here before and was T-3 in 2015 — and Rahil Gangjee, who did play on the Web.com Tour in the US, but it is in Asia that he is making his PGA Tour debut.
Three players have won the event since it came onto the PGA Tour. Ryan Moore won it in 2013 and 2014 and then Justin Thomas claimed it in 2015 and 2016, while Pat Perez was the champion last year. All three are in the field this week.
Other top contenders include Xander Schauffele, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker and Kevin Tway, who won the Safeway Open last week.
The field is 78 players comprising Top-60 available from 2017-18 FedExCup going to a floor of 125th position plus Top-10 available from Asian Tour's Order of Merit list as on October 8 2018 plus eight sponsor spots.
Sharma, making his debut at CIMB, leads the Asian Tour's Habitat for Humanity Standings as he prepares for his debut at the $7 million CIMB Classic on Thursday.
The Indian star has been in the lead since winning in Malaysia in February but he has Sanghyun Park of Korea, who has won twice on the Asian Tour, breathing down his neck.
With Park also in the elite field this week and a mere $54,278 separating the duo, Sharma knows he must put in a solid performance at the TPC Kuala Lumpur, a course where he has never played on before.
For Sharma, the event is hugely important in his quest to becoming Asian Tour's number one golfer as half of the earnings won at the CIMB Classic will be counted on the Standings. Sharma, a two-time Asian Tour winner, currently leads the Habitat for Humanity Standings with a season's haul of $608,494.
They will be joined by the leading available 10 players on the Habitat for Humanity Standings which include Gaganjeet Bhullar, a nine-time Asian Tour winner, Justin Harding of South Africa and last week's champion John Catlin of the United States.
Sharma said, "I've seen this event on television for so many years, and obviously Anirban (Lahiri) won the Malaysian Open here a few years ago so I've seen this golf course a lot on television and today was my first look at it. I'm really happy that I'm part of this event and looking forward to it.
"I haven't really thought about anything or set any goals. Winning the Order of Merit is something I want to achieve by December and playing well here goes a long way to achieve that. That will be the number one goal for now. Obviously, we all know golf is a game that you can't really have your best every week.
"I feel like in my short career, this is my sixth year as a pro, but what I learned is that it's only when you are not playing well that you learn more about yourself. You have things that you would not really look at when you're playing well, but when you're playing bad, you tend to look at the finer things. I think I've done that in the past month. I have my coach here this week and even he's really happy with the way I'm hitting it, and I hit it pretty good today as well. I think it's just about getting in one good round and when that happens I think I'll get confidence back and I'll be back at it again."
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the 2013 Asian Tour number one, will play in his first PGA Tour event at the CIMB Classic after becoming the first Thai to earn a PGA Tour card. He will look to improve on his tied third place finish in the showpiece in 2013.
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Updated Date: Oct 09, 2018 17:46:42 IST