Major threat to Grace as he leads Volvo Champions

Branden Grace carded a two-over-par 75 on Saturday to share the third-round lead of the €2-million Volvo Champions at The Links at Fancourt at 10-under-par 209 with Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts.

And there are players with 14 majors between them right on his heels as he attempts to win back-to-back tournaments on the European Tour in this winner’s only event to which he gained entry only last week with his Joburg Open victory.

Charl Schwartzel and Retief Goosen trail by one stroke; Jose Maria Olazabal by two; Padraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen are three back; Ernie Els fired his third consecutive 71 to be four back; Paul Lawrie moved to within five; and Open champion Darren Clarke was on 215.

The 23-year-old Grace had a round which included five birdies, but he dropped shots on five other holes – and on two of them it was double-bogey.

“I hit a great drive on 12 and just had a big bounce right on one of the slopes and ended up in a pot bunker,” he said of the first double bogey. “Then the hole gets very long, because you can’t really progress forward. You have to go sideways, and I left myself with a very long club in.”

He made double again on 17: “I just maybe went for it a little bit more than I should have. I just over trusted a wedge and pulled it a fraction,” he said. “I thought the wind should have pushed it back a little bit.”

Despite the difficulties he experienced, Grace again exhibited the kind of self-control which marked his victory in Johannesburg and his second round during which he got into the lead.

“Each of the drops was just one of those things,” he said. “I picked what I wanted to do, I did it and it didn’t work; so it’s one of those things that you have to live with.”

Colsaerts bounced back with his third-round 69: He carded a three-over 76 in the second round after his opening course-record 64, and he underlined his return with an eagle three on the 502-metre (549-yard) 18th.

“I hit an enormous drive, I don’t even know how far it went, but I hit eight-iron on to the green,” he said. “That’s 220, 210 metres to the flag, but it was pounding down, the wind. I figured it was pretty much a 25-metre wind, something like that.”

Right behind them, Masters champion Schwartzel played a game that got him a five-under 68, the best round of the day, without being able to find his putting touch.

“I hit the ball probably the best I’ve hit it in a very long time,” he said. “It was flawless shot after flawless shot. All of my birdies I made came from tap-ins, basically.”

Goosen, the two-time US Open champion, carded a three-under 70. “The first six, seven holes played really tough,” he said. “I played them nice and solid, the first nine holes, and had a poor finish, very poor finish. I feel like I should have played those final three holes under par.”

The final round will be a test of the extent to which victory in the Joburg Open has tempered the steeliness of Grace. “I think tomorrow is going to be a day where I just stick to my own game,” he said.

If that pays off, it will be a memorable victory.

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