Sharma savouring CIMB Classic debut

India’s Shubhankar Sharma headlines a strong Asian Tour cast in the ninth edition of the US$7 million CIMB Classic which starts on Thursday.

Sharma, the current Habitat for Humanity Standings leader on the Asian Tour, will make his first appearance alongside fellow debutantes Sanghyun Park of Korea, Scott Vincent of Zimbabwe, Justin Harding of South Africa and the in-form John Catlin of the United States at TPC Kuala Lumpur’s  revamped West Course.

Gaganjeet Bhullar of India, a nine-time Asian Tour winner, will make his third appearance in Southeast Asia’s only PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament. His countryman Rahil Gangjee, Korea’s Minchel Choi and American duo Sihwan Kim and Berry Henson will also feature in the event.

Other Asians in the elite field include 2013 Asian Tour number one Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the first Thai to earn a PGA Tour card and Anirban Lahiri of India, who finished tied third in the showpiece in 2016.

Malaysia will be represented by Ben Leong, who replaced Gavin Green in the field as the second highest ranked Malaysian on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) and Kim Leun Kwang, winner of the CIMB National Championship. Green opted out as he is focusing on the European Tour and is playing in this week’s British Masters.

Sharma is enjoying a fine run in 2018 highlighted by his second Asian Tour victory in Malaysia in February. He continued his remarkable rise at the World Golf Championships in Mexico where he led heading into the final round before finishing tied ninth in his first attempt.

He is also the youngest Indian to play in all four Major championships this year, following the footsteps of Jeev Milkha Singh in 2007 and Anirban Lahiri in 2015 and 2016. His fine performances this year did not go unnoticed as he was awarded with the prestigious Arjuna Award from the President of India last month.

“I’ve never played in the CIMB Classic before and it should be very exciting. I’ve watched it on television before and my second win obviously came in Malaysia, so I’m looking forward to returning and putting up another good show,” said Sharma.

The 22-year-old will also look to extend his lead on the Habitat for Humanity Standings as half of the money earned at the CIMB Classic will be counted on the Order of Merit.

“I had a bigger lead before but the players are playing better and everyone’s getting closer. I know I’ve got to play well and I have to finish strong in the last few events so I’m going to give it my best,” said the Indian.

Catlin will also make his debut in the CIMB Classic after claiming his third Asian Tour victory this season. The American won the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Chinese Taipei on Sunday.

“If you told me I was going to play in a PGA Tour event six months ago, I would be like, it’s not going to happen. But now that I’ve got in, it’s amazing and I’m so excited to play in this event,” said the 27-year-old Catlin.

The CIMB Classic features a limited field of 78 players comprising of the top 60 available players from the 2017-18 FedExCup points list, eight sponsor exemptions and the top-10 available players from the Asian Tour.

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