Danny Willett charged through the merest of gaps offered by Luke Donald on Saturday to move into a share of the third round lead of the $6.5-million Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player Country Club.
And then Donald slammed the door firmly shut again with a brilliant approach to 18 which left him a three-footer for birdie – an opportunity he took with alacrity to take back possession of the lead he had held throughout the round.
But the story of the day was the brilliant seven-under-par 65 by Willett, which has effectively ended any thoughts Donald may have been harbouring of a leisurely victory lap in Sunday’s final round.
“They say Saturday’s moving day, and for once I moved in the right direction,” said Willett.
He showed he has an appetite for going out on a limb when he went sky-diving for charity in Dubai in March, and he took on the challenges of the bushveld layout with all the relish he showed when he jumped out of an aircraft back then.
He raced to the turn in four-under-par 32, and then made two more birdies after the turn. A bogey on the 13th – the hole where Donald was agile in the second round in sidestepping a large male baboon – slowed him slightly, but he picked up two more birdies on 14 and 16 to throw down the gauntlet to the former world number one.
“I came out well after swinging nicely on the range,” said Willett, “and made some really good moves in the first few holes which set up some relatively simple birdies. I kept pressing, didn’t hold back and I finished really strongly.
“I’ve been playing some good golf over the last few weeks, in Turkey, China and Dubai. I’ve been in good positions but it hasn’t quite gone my way, so it was nice to get this today.”
Donald hadn’t made a bogey in 42 holes – he last dropped a shot on the sixth in the first round – and then he faltered briefly with a bogey on the 13th in the third round. He stopped the wobble with three consecutive pars, but then he three-putted the 17th from nowhere. But he displayed his short game wizardry with an approach from the left rough of the 18th that nestled down next to the flag.
First round leader Ross Fisher held things together, despite two bogeys during his two-under-par 70 in the third round. He turned in two-under 34, but then battled his way around the back nine. He made bogey with a poor chip on the par-three 16th, and redeemed it with a good birdie putt on 18 to keep himself within three of Donald’s lead.
Germany’s Marcel Siem was in fourth ahead of the final round, five shots behind Fisher, while the leading South African was Louis Oosthuizen after his three-under-par 69 left him nine adrift of the lead, together with Thailand’s Tongchai Jaidee.