Charl Schwartzel sank a birdie putt on 17 in the third round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Saturday which helped him grind his way to a two-under-par 70 at Leopard Creek and a three-stroke lead going into the final round.
The 2011 Masters champion was all at sea with his long game which had appeared to return to him in all its glory in the first two rounds, and, after making bogey on the first hole, he gritted his teeth, held things together with back-to-back birdies on six and seven, and then the one on 17. His five-stroke lead had been reduced with the French duo of Sebastien Gros and Benjamin Hebert snapping at his heels.
“I was coming close the whole day with the longer ones which just didn’t go in,” he said. “And then I think I made the longest one of them all. It swung about two metres off the left and over a hill and then downhill and just went straight in the hole. That definitely put a little smile on my face.”
That this battle of a round came on the same day as Gros got out of the starting blocks in the early action with a superlative nine-under-par 63, and as Hebert carded a 68 to move into his rear-view mirror was unfortunate for Schwartzel.
But that he managed to pick up two shots on par himself while playing that way was one of the ‘positives’ he could take from the round. “I’ve played this sort of golf and shot scores that are a lot worse,” he said. “So to be able to shoot under par and keep myself in the tournament – that’s a big positive.”
He also has the memories of three previous victories in the tournament to draw on, as well as the knowledge that he is at his favourite course in the world. But it still takes some deep digging to draw on those memories. “I think it helps, but to be really honest, this round made me feel like this tournament is a brand new one for me,” he laughed.
“I didn’t feel comfortable from the word go, and the consequence was I didn’t hit the ball as well as I have been and I didn’t give myself very many chances. I was on the back foot on almost every single hole,” he said. So it was no surprise to hear his caddie, brother Attie, say that he had hit only three fairways during the round.
There were no such problems for the pair who trail him going into the final round. “I was very solid from tee to green,” said Gros. “I missed some greens but I managed pretty well when I missed them, so it was a complete round.”
Hebert had a similar tale to tell. “My iron-play was great,” he said, “and I hit everything on a good line and with good distance. I almost holes two approaches on the front nine.”
In fourth place behind the leaders was Dylan Frittelli, who carded a six-under 66 to move to within five of the front-running Schwartzel. “It’s cool to see my name up there,” said Frittelli. “Probably no-one expected to see me up there, and I hope tomorrow goes well and I can stay there.”
Schwartzel, however, needed to go straight to the practice range after his round to make sure he found something to help him stay on top.