Donaldson stays three clear after birdie frenzyon December 7, 2013
On a day where it rained birdies at the Gary Player Country Club, Jamie Donaldson produced a clinical third-round 67 to reach 16-under par and retain control of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Saturday.
No fewer than 13 players broke 70 on the day, but the Welshman’s solid display, which included six birdies, keeps him three clear of Ryan Moore (67) and the impressive Thomas Bjorn (66).
An inspired Sergio Garcia (66) rallied with a back nine of 31 to reach 11-under, and the Spaniard will begin the final round in a share of fourth place with Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (66) and world number three Henrik Stenson (69).
Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge’s 69 sees him in sole possession of seventh place at nine-under par, while Darren Fichardt, who also fired a three-under third round, leads the South African charge at eight under in a share of eighth with American DA Points (70).
A disappointing 71 for Charl Schwartzel leaves him a further stroke adrift in a three-way share of 10th place.
Amidst early roars from the galleries up ahead, Donaldson began somewhat sedately with three pars. However, back-to-back birdies at the fourth and fifth holes stamped his authority on the day, and a further four red numbers after the turn meant he reached the 17th hole with a commanding four-shot lead.
“It was hard work out there, even when you are playing well,” the leader said after his round. “You cannot sit back for a minute and every hole is difficult. It is very important to stay in the present and just keep hitting good shots.
“I like the look of the course,” Donaldson continued. “It suits my eye I suppose, and it is a really good golf course. It is playing pretty fair and the conditions were as straight forward as they could be on a golf course like this. It was not too hot or windy, so overall I enjoyed it.”
The treacherous penultimate hole then threatened to derail Donaldson’s hard work, but, after bunker troubles and a close shave with the green-side water, he calmly rolled home a 10-foot putt to salvage a bogey and keep significant daylight between himself and the duo at 13 under.
“I was in between clubs on the tee, and I tried to draw a 3-wood from the line of the bunkers and it stayed there. It is a tough hole from there. I played pretty well out from the trap, and left myself what was not too difficult a shot, but it just skipped on over the green and nearly went into the water. It was a good up and down from there in the end,” the 38-year old concluded.
Playing partner Moore was able to keep pace with the leader throughout the afternoon, and a second successive bogey-free round could have been even better had a few more putts gone his way. He will once again be in the final three-ball tomorrow; along with Bjorn, whose five birdies and an eagle kept him in with a chance of rounding off a fine season with the winner’s cheque for $1.25 million.
Stenson endured a mixed round, and carded a double-bogey seven on the ninth hole after depositing two balls in the water. But four birdies on the back nine represented a response of the highest quality, and he, alongside Garcia, who himself produced four birdies and an eagle after the turn, will form part of a competitive penultimate three-ball on Sunday.
The quality of the chasing pack was not lost on Donaldson either, and when quizzed on his approach for the last round, the HSBC Abu Dhabi champion admitted that defence was not an option.
“This is a very difficult field, one of the best fields in the world, and a lead in this field does not mean very much. You have to go out there and play really good golf, so that is what I will be aiming to do tomorrow.
“It would be very, very special. This is a great golf course, a great country and a great resort. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing here. I’ve won twice on the European Tour so far and every win is special. But this would be just a little bit more special,” he added.
Fichardt and Louis Oosthuizen (67) produced the best scores of the day for the South African contingent, while three-time winner Ernie Els, who learned of former sport psychologist Jos Vanstiphout’s death on the putting green this morning, could only manage a 77.