At 22 years old Tommy Fleetwood is one of the brightest young stars on the European Tour, and he shone on Saturday at Durban Country Club, shooting 69 to lead the elite Volvo Golf Champions field by one shot on 10-under-par.
“Every single player wants to win; but to win you have to learn how to do it and you have to learn to be in the lead. I want to be here for many years to come at the top of leaderboards, so it's great to actually get here this early in my career and keep on doing it,” he said.
The former world number one amateur was superb on the greens and led the field in putting with an average of 24.7 putts per round. Saving pars played a crucial role in keeping his nose ahead of the chasing pack, which included Victor Dubuisson and Joost Luiten in a tie for second place on nine-under.
“Three‑under around this golf course, when you're not on your game is an absolutely brilliant score,” said Fleetwood. “So I think it's showing that I'm maturing as a golfer and I can actually score when I'm playing bad, which is actually one of the most important parts of obviously being a professional golfer.”
The Englishman cemented his place in this week’s field with a playoff victory at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in August of last year. He faces stiff competition for the final round tomorrow, but his confidence is high.
“Just have to rely on my short game really, which I've done a lot of work on over the last eight, nine months and I think it's definitely paid off towards the end of last year and it's paid off today, definitely over the first three days,” he said.
The South African charge was headed up by Louis Oosthuizen, who shot a rollercoaster 71 on Saturday that included seven birdies and a triple bogey. The 2010 Open Champion was two off the pace at the close of play.
“I’m right in it. Just a lot of birdies today, and a lot of bogeys as well. But still in good position for tomorrow,” he said.
A further stroke back was 2012 champion Branden Grace, who took advantage of the good conditions and rose from eighth place to fourth with a moving day 68.
“I wanted to be up there, have the chance to be able to get the win, and that's what I've done. So I'm just going to head down tomorrow and take it hole‑by‑hole,” he said.
It was surprising that the benign conditions did not yield lower scores, but spectators enjoyed a visual treat as Europe’s best scrambled with flair. Oosthuizen played an iron shot left handed from under a large bush and Darren Clarke hit a punch four-iron to a greenside bunker from underneath some dense brush, but shot of the day went to Charl Schwartzel.
The 2011 Masters Champion hit his drive at the 16th far right and landed on a gravel road. He took a five-iron from 181 metres and connected it beautifully. The ball pitched one foot past the pin and rolled to eight feet past the cup, and from there Schwartzel two-putted for par.
Fleetwood holds a slim lead going into the final round, but he’s ready to battle his fellow champions on Sunday.
“I think one of my targets tomorrow will be to make sure that I stick to my game plan every hole, don't get carried away with myself and keep doing what I've been doing because it's been working so far. 18 holes to go, an 18‑hole tournament, but you really should play the last round like you've played the first round,” he said.