Neil Schietekat (right; picture by Jean Mandela/Lusaka Golf Club) kept his head about him as he carded a three-under-par 70 on the Lusaka Golf Club layout on Saturday to move to nine-under-par and the 54-hole lead of the R1.22-million Zambia Sugar Open.
He shared that lead with second-round leader Ulrich van den Berg, who recovered from a poor opening nine and fought back to finish one-under for his round. Schietekat and Van den Berg were one stroke clear of Lyle Rowe, who had the round of the day with a superlative seven-under-par 66, and rookie Haydn Porteous who battled his way into contention with his three-under-par 70.
“You’ve got four par-fives on the back nine,” said Schietekat of the 6,608-metre par-72 Lusaka Golf Club, “so you kind of relax a bit on that side because you know there are scoring opportunities.
“But I hit it close – very close – on the back nine and I just didn’t make anything. I could have been six- or seven-under, but I suppose everyone can say they’ve missed a lot of putts on these greens,” he laughed.
The greens are small, and hard, and are a big challenge to all the professionals. “It was a very tough day out there today,” said Van den Berg. “The greens are crusty and it wasn’t easy to score out there.”
The greens are small and hard, and have dried out in the warm weather in Lusaka – and that process has been exacerbated by a wind that has picked up over the last two days.
That made Rowe’s 66 all the more impressive. “I just want to commend Lyle on a great round – a 66 in this wind is a really great effort,” said Van den Berg.
Rowe had taken to Twitter just a day earlier, expressing his frustrations with the game of golf, and he alone amongst the top four had only a single bogey on his card – the other three had two or more.
“It’s very nice to shoot a low round for a change,” said Rowe. “I’ve been playing well, but things haven’t been going my way really. So that’s why the frustration was there. Today, I just kept the ball in the right places and I had to putt well to shoot a good score.”
Schietekat agreed that minimising mistakes had given him his third consecutive 70: “I’m just playing for the front edge on the greens the whole time,” he said. “Then I can either chip it or putt it and make my par.”
Porteous agreed. “Sometimes on this course, you can get a bad lie, or even hit not that bad of a shot, and walk away with a bogey or even worse than that,” he said.
That happened to him on the 516-metre par-five 18th when his second looked inch-perfect and ended up rolling all the way over the green. His chip was good, but not close enough and he ended up making par on a hole that could easily have yielded an eagle and the lead to him.
But the steadiness of Schietekat, the patience of Van den Berg… those are the characteristics that Porteous and Rowe are going to have to emulate in the final round.