There is not another course in the world on which Charl Schwartzel feels more comfortable, and it showed on Saturday at Leopard Creek Country Club as he cruised to a five-under-par 67 and a two-stroke lead in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
His score was matched by England’s Richard Finch, who is the man trailing the two-time champion, and also by France’s Victor Riu, who finished the third round on 10-under-par 206, three off the pace.
“It’s one of those courses where I’m comfortable with all of the right lines,” he said. “A lot of golf courses you need to hit it on lines that you feel awkward with, but this course is mostly right in front of you. And I think it helps that I’ve had good success here too.”
Schwartzel was remorseless as he kept things simple and efficient, not dropping a single shot – in fact, he hasn’t dropped on since his 10th hole in the opening round. And his iron-play was reminiscent of the sort of form which brought him the 2011 Masters title.
And had a few putts bobbled a millimetre one way or the other, he could well have been looking at a 63.
“If I had really putted well today it could have been very low,” he said. “The good thing is that I know it’s there. It very easily could have been low, but it was still a solid round of golf and this is still a tough golf course.”
Had he gone low, there could have been a yawning gap between him and his pursuers. As it is, Finch is quite aware of how difficult it could be to chase Schwartzel down during the final round if the South African keeps playing as steadily as he has been. “If he goes out and shoots a 65, it’s done and dusted,” said Finch. “He’s one of the best players in the world.”
Riu could have been with Finch in second place but for a bogey-six on the 18th. “I took a pitching wedge in instead of a 56-degree wedge,” he explained. “I went right over the pin, and I had a very difficult putt from off the green, so I ended up three-putting.”
For the pair behind Schwartzel and the others in the chasing pack – France’s Romain Wattel on nine-under, Swede Soren Hansen on eight-under, and Ross Fisher of England and Hennie Otto on seven-under – the ominous signs are that Schwartzel has found a groove.
“I felt a lot more comfortable and consequently I was hitting a lot more positive shots. I felt a little more in control than the last few days,” he said. “Sometimes those things are unexplainable. It’s just human nature and you go through those waves. I hope a good round like this picks me up and I go out tomorrow and have the same.”