George Coetzee goes into the final round of the Open Championship at Royal St GeorgeÂs tomorrow with an opportunity to cast caution to the wind and make an indelible impression on world golf.
The current Telkom PGA champion trails leader Darren Clarke by five shots, and, although it seems it will take a superhuman effort to close that gap, the vagaries of links golf could play into his hands if he is willing to take risks.
In SaturdayÂs third round, he was confronted with the kind of weather that levelled the playing field in a big way, and, in the end, only four players made par or better: Clarke, second-placed Dustin Johnson, third-placed Rickie Fowler and American Anthony Kim.
ÂIt was pretty tough,Â he said. ÂYouÂve got to keep your head and just try and place it in the right spots and not hit it off the planet and try to roll in the putts, and I guess I left some out there, but I guess everybody did.Â
Coetzee ground his way to a two-over-par 72, but managed to stay in a share of seventh place, losing no ground in relation to the top of the leaderboard.
In fact, it was only as the weather started clearing late in the afternoon after a day of strong winds and driving rain that he made double bogey six on the 15th to slip over par.
It was frustrating for the South African who managed a third-place finish in last weekÂs Barclays Scottish Open to underline his chances in the Open at Sandwich, as he had just birdied the difficult 14th with its menacing out of bounds all along the right of the fairway.
In the end, he coped better than the other highly ranked South Africans still in the field after the halfway cut: Masters champion Charl Schwartzel carded a five-over-par 75 to slip down to a share of 22nd place, his three-over-par 54-hole total leaving him eight shots to make up on Clarke should he entertain any hopes of adding a second major title to his resume.
Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen made only the second cut of his Open career on Friday, and his four-over 74 in the third round left him 11 strokes adrift.
Behind Coetzee and Schwartzel, the next best of the South Africans was Trevor Immelman. The 2008 Masters champion carded his second successive 72, and, at four-over for 54 holes, is perhaps too far off the pace to challenge for victory.
Rory Sabbatini battled to a seven-over-par 77 for a share of 48th.
Clarke said: ÂFrom tee to green I canÂt really play any better. I had one of those days where I had full control of my ball flight, but I didnÂt have the speed with my putting at all.
ÂIf somebody had said before the start I could have 69, though, I would have bitten their hand off.Â
He now has a chance to add a major title to his collection of honours Â a victory that will be as popular as any countryman Rory McIlroy could have delivered.
ÂIÂve done just about everything else,Â said Clarke. ÂIÂve been fortunate to win Ryder Cups and World Championships, but a major has so far eluded me. IÂve a pretty decent chance. A major is always tough to win, but IÂve put myself in position.Â
Coetzee is also excited about the final round: ÂI couldnÂt ask for anything better,Â he said. ÂIÂm going to enjoy every second of it tomorrow. But yeah, thatÂs what IÂm here for. IÂm here to compare myself to the best and see how I fare in the majors, and so far, so good.Â