South Africans surge in World Cup in China

He was a little downcast as they walked off the 12th green on Saturday, but Charl Schwartzel’s words must have resonated with Louis Oosthuizen as the South Africans raced to 11-under-par 61 in the third round of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we make five more birdies before we finish,” the Masters champions said to his good friend, the 2010 Open champion.

They made four – and it was so nearly five – and ended up at 19-under together with the United States duo of Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland, and Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka, two shots off the pacesetting Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of Ireland.

That Oosthuizen was downcast at all was somewhat surprising, as they had raced to the turn in five-under-par 31. Perhaps it was because he had contributed only one birdie to the tally at the turn, but perhaps it’s because he’s naturally the more phlegmatic of the two.

That difference was most noticeable on the ninth, when Schwartzel sank a 20-footer for birdie with a bravura fistpump – they strode together to the 10th with Schwartzel zoned out, and Oosthuizen fussing and fidgeting.

After the 12th the 625-metre (681-yard) 13th lay ahead of them. Birdies have not been easy to come by on that monster. And Schwartzel fired his third right at the pin, leaving himself four feet for birdie.

When his attempt horseshoed out, you could almost see Oosthuizen brace himself as they walked to the 14th.

It marked the beginning of a run of four consecutive birdies for the South Africans, and Oosthuizen started it with a gorgeous approach on 14 to two feet. He went on to sink a 15-footer for birdie on 15 and the light of belief shone in his eyes again.

He almost swaggered to the 16th, where he had smashed a drive 330 metres (360 yards) 15 feet past the pin in the second round. This time, he let out the beginnings of an anguished Afrikaans curse as he begged the ball to turn a little more left before it fell into the greenside trap.

“I’m still going to give mine a smack,” said Schwartzel, and he went ahead and just cleared the yawning hazard that lay between the tee and the green.

Oosthuizen’s bunker shot almost limped in with sand from the trap still stuck to it, and Schwartzel made an up-and-down birdie to keep the roll going.

But Oosthuizen wasn’t finished: he stuck his approach on 17 to within two feet, and the South Africans had raced through the field from their overnight share of 10th to second and a real shot at the title.

Suddenly, their lament of the opening two days – not being able to read the lines on the greens – was a thing of the past, and they played as if they know they can win.

Oosthuizen’s fear back on the 12th – “Ireland can get to 23 or 24,” he had said to Schwartzel – was not realised, and they go into the final round buoyed by their performance.

For the success of the effort, it was important that Oosthuizen get up again. “We knew we needed to play a low round today and we went out and did it. To me, it just showed us and gave us good confidence for tomorrow,” he said.

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