Mexico City, Feb 22: Shubhankar Sharma holed two nice birdies over the last four holes to ensure a solid start of one-under 70 in the first round of the US$10.25 million World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. Sharma, 22, who catapulted into global fame by leading after 54 holes on his PGA Tour debut at the 2018 edition, is now Tied-19 on a day, when Rory McIlroy (63) and Dustin Johnson (64) pulled themselves well clear of the field at the Par-71 Chapultepec Golf Club. Last year Sharma was T-ninth.
Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat produced his best opening round of the year on the PGA TOUR carding a three-under 68 for a share of seventh position. Kiradech traded five birdies against two bogeys at Club de Golf Chapultepec to trail first round leader Rory McIlroy, who enjoyed a blistering 63 featuring an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey.
China’s Haotong Li dropped two late bogeys to settle for a 69, leaving him in T-11, while Sharma had a rollercoaster day with four birdies against three bogeys for T-19.
Sharma bombed some big drives around 350-yards and over and hit 13 of the 18 greens in regulation. He had a nice start on the 387-yard par-4 second, where he drove 349 yards and chipped his second shot to two feet for a one-putt birdie. But on the very next hole, the 186-yard par-3 third, Sharma's tee shot went 197 yards to the right rough and he hit his second shot to about nine yards from the stick from where he chipped to two feet and rolled in a two footer for bogey.
He turned in one-over after going into the greenside bunker with his second shot. He reached the green in three but two putted from almost 70 feet for a bogey.
On the monster 622-yard Par-5 11th, he hit a 351-yard drive and chipped his third shot to three feet for a birdie to get to even par.
On the 225-yard par-3 13th, Sharma's tee shot went 189 yards to the right rough from where he got a drop. His chip went nearly 50 feet, but he rolled well to get to five feet but missed the par putt to go one-over.
He got back that on the 575-yard par-5 15th hole, where he reached the green in three and sunk a 5-foot putt for birdie to get back to par.
On the Par-4 388-yard finishing hole, Sharma had a 154-yard approach shot and he got to inside seven feet for a birdie and a card of 70.
Starting on the back nine, McIlroy was four-under for his first nine and then came close to a hole-in-one on the Par-4 10th and holed an eagle from six feet. McIlroy had seven birdies and an eagle and a bogey when he went into rough first and then the cart path on Par-5 sixth.
On the Par-4 first, where McIlroy had a near hole in one, Tiger Woods hit out-of-bounds with his first shot in Mexico, where he is playing for the first time.
Woods’ opening tee shot off a 5-wood landed on the green but it was the wrong green, a temporary green from where it bounced to the left and beyond the out-of-bounds stake into the bushes. Woods started with the double bogey but three birdies in a row from fourth settled him before he bogeyed the eighth from close. On the back nine he bogeyed 13th and birdied 15th for a 71.
Johnson who won the WGC-Mexico Championship two years ago, said he had struggled with his swing at Pebble Beach and Riviera. He worked all week on the range in Mexico and it felt great.
He was bogey free with seven birdies and had back-to-back eagle putts. He drove the first green to 20 feet and hitting driver on the 383-yard on second hole he went over the trees and onto the green to 18 feet. He made birdie on both.
Justin Thomas, who lost in a playoff last year to Phil Mickelson, chipped in from 50 feet behind the green on No. 15 for eagle in his 66. He was tied with Matt Kuchar, who has already won in Mexico this season at the Mayakoba Classic.
Jordan Spieth, with his father filling in because caddie Michael Greller's father died, opened with a 75.
Mickelson, who won at Pebble Beach bogeyed three of his first four holes on the back and shot 40 on the front and opened with a 79.