Zander Lombard overpowered the course in round two and then made further inroads on Thursday with a three-under-par 69 in the third round of the 2015 Sunshine Tour Qualifying School being played at Bloemfontein Golf Club and Schoeman Park Golf Club.
His second-round 64 at Schoeman Park vaulted him clear at the top of the leaderboard, and his 69 came at the same course as he completed his second round there – players play two rounds on each of the courses ahead of the 72-hole cut to 60 players and ties, after which the remaining hopefuls battle it out in the final round at Bloemfontein for the 30 Sunshine Tour cards on offer.
“After a good round like I had yesterday, you inevitably feel like you’re struggling even though you’re actually playing well,” said Lombard after his 69 left him one stroke clear of first-round leader Alessandro Grammatica of Italy, who carded a 67 at Schoeman Park.
Veteran professional Michael Scholz continued to play well, his 68 at Schoeman Park moving him into third place at 10-under-par. Amateur Burger Heckroodt shone with a seven-under 65 at Schoeman Park to move to eight-under for 54 holes, putting him in a share of fourth place. Jaco Prinsloo matched that 65, but at Bloemfontein, and moved himself inside the top 20 at five-under for the tournament.
With just one round to go, Lombard seems set fair to be one of the 30 on Saturday afternoon, but he won’t start thinking about that just yet. “I was never completely relaxed out there today,” he said after his third round, “because things can still go wrong, so I just keep sticking to my processes. This is still a tournament, and I’m in a position to win it so I want to do that.”
Lombard, a former number one amateur in South Africa, turned professional last November upon registering for the final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, where an opening 77 put the kibosh on his efforts to gain his European Tour card.
But his play in the opening rounds this week in Bloemfontein has suggested he has the game to make it on the Sunshine Tour. Said Bryce Easton, a two-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, who carded a five-under-par 67 of his own as he seeks to regain his playing privileges on the tour, “I played with him in the first two rounds and I was very impressed with the way the guy hits the ball. He hits it miles up here at altitude, 40 metres past everybody else. I’m not short, and on a couple of occasions when I caught one well off the tee, got it out to 320 or so, he was walking 40 metres on!”
He made his professional debut in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December, missing the cut there and in the South African Open Championship in January.
But there seems to be a steeliness about his game now: “He’s playing great golf, and I don’t really see him wobbling too much,” said Easton.
“Qualifying School is a tough week,” acknowledged Lombard, “and you have to play your best. There’s a lot of pressure involved – you often feel as if everyone is playing better than you are – but it’s a matter of staying patient, putting five solid rounds together and the score will do the talking.”
With his game appearing to be so composed, perhaps he has an advantage over all the other amateurs and first-timers at Qualifying School: “At professional level, your whole game is being tested in every tournament,” he said. “There are tougher pins, tougher greens, longer courses – whereas as an amateur, some courses you play, if you just drive well, you score well.
“I love the test that I’m having from professional golf.”