Aiken battling to shake off Schwartzel in Joburg Open

Thomas Aiken spent the whole of a tough third round of the €1.3-million Joburg Open trying to shake off the attentions of Charl Schwartzel as he carded a three-under-par 68 to lead at 15-under-par.

He was in a three-way share of that lead – with Schwartzel and Garth Mulroy – with Scotland’s David Drysdale lurking at 14-under alone in fourth place.

“Charl’s like a leech,” laughed Aiken.

“I’ll bring him a pair of scissors,” countered Schwartzel, referring to Aiken’s flowing locks.

It was a breeze around the 6,940-metre (7,592-yard) Royal Johannesburg and Kensington East Course which made life difficult for the players as there was none of the superlative scoring seen on the East Course over the first two rounds from the leaders, although Welshman Jamie Donaldson carded a six-under 65 and Swede Oscar Floren a five-under 66.

Making things tougher still were the pin placings: “They put every one in the worst position on every hole,” said Aiken. It meant that the players often had to fire at the heart of the green rather than the pins, and it left them with long birdie chances.

“I hit 16 greens today,” said Aiken, “so three-under was probably the worst score I could have made. But you can’t complain with three-under, and I’m certainly in position to challenge. I did what I needed to do.”

Aiken was not the only player to battle with putting: Schwartzel bogeyed the second, and seemed uncomfortable over his putter for the next four holes, but the problem seemed to have been banished as he made three consecutive birdies from the seventh to the ninth.

But the putting woes reappeared after the turn, and he seemed unable to sink apparently makeable putts for five consecutive holes.

Then he bogeyed the 15th, and he called that pin position “just stupid”.

Two more pars and a two-putt birdie on 18 saw him home at two-under-par 69.

“The wind blew a lot,” said Schwartzel, “and on this course, it’s never really in one direction. It always seems to swirl, so it makes it really difficult to choose clubs.”

Mulroy made more birdies than the players with whom he will contest the final round – five, in total – but he made three bogeys in his 69.

The first came at the first, but he kept his head and birdies on the sixth and the ninth saw him turn one-under for the round.

His homeward nine also started with a bogey, and another drop on 16 meant his three birdies were somewhat devalued.

Drysdale carded a four-under 67 with six birdies, a score matched France’s Jean-Baptiste Gonnet.

Behind them, James Kingston endured a complete reversal of his second-round fortunes, as he fired a two-over-par 73, 11 shots worse than his 62 yesterday.

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