Defending champ Schwartzel holds on to share of lead in Joburg Open

charl schwartzel
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Defending champ Charl Schwartzel took the scenic route from tee to green on the 17th hole at the Joburg Open on Saturday.
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PA Sport and Associated Press

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Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011 | 12:11 p.m.

Defending champion Charl Schwartzel enters the final round of the Joburg Open in a three-way share of the lead with fellow South Africans Thomas Aiken and Garth Mulroy.

Aiken criticized the pin placings at the 7,592-yard Royal Johannesburg and Kensington East Course, saying “they put every one in the worst position on every hole.”

2011 JOBURG OPEN

The Joburg Open features an oversized field of 210 players from both the European Tour and southern Africa's Sunshine Tour.

Players often had to aim at the heart of the green rather than the pins, leaving them with long birdie chances.

All three co-leaders overcame nervous Round 3s. The trio all had similar efforts on Saturday, with defending champion Schwartzel and Mulroy -- two men that were part of a three-way tie for the lead at the halfway stage -- going around the par-71 East Course in 2-under 69. Aiken, who was a shot behind on Friday, managed the best round of the trio, a 68, as the leaders ended on 15 under overall.

Their closest challenge was coming from Scotland's David Drysdale after his 4-under 67 put him a shot further back, while Englishmen Ben Evans (67) and Jamie Elson (71) were tied on 13 under. Jean-Baptiste Gonnet from France was tied with them to sit two shots of the leaders, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson recording the round of the day score of 65 to move onto 11 under.

Four other players were with him -- Sweden’s Oscar Floren (66), Antti Ahokas (68) of Finland and South African duo Allan Versfeld (70) and Branden Grace (71).

The big battle, though, looks set to take place at the top of the leaderboard as the event, co-sanctioned by the European Tour and southern Afrca’s and Sunshine Tour, reaches its climax.

But Aiken, whose round included four birdies and a bogey on the par-3 16th, believes someone outside the leading trio could produce a sting in the tail.

"Golf's a funny game, you can get someone shooting a 62 to come from behind, so you never know," he said. “You need to concentrate on what you need to do, go out there and whatever happens out there happens."

Trying to explain why low scoring was hard to come by Satturday,  the 27-year-old, a seven-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, added: "There were two difficult things out there today. One was the wind and the other thing was the pin placements, which were in some really nasty positions.

"I did what I needed to do, didn't do anything ridiculously bad, but it just didn't want to go in the hole,” he explained. “Hopefully tomorrow it will go the other way."

Schwartzel missed several putts along the way as he ended with his worst score of the week so far -- he shot 68 and 61 previously. The 26-year-old also felt that the wind was responsible for a lack of low scores.

"It was a tough day out there today," he said. "The wind blew a lot and this course is not in one direction, it's in different ones, so it makes things difficult. It always swirls and makes it difficult to choose clubs."

The world No. 32, who is the highest-ranked player in the field, also lamented his putting, adding: "I know I hit the ball well, but I left a few putts out there. I missed a few short ones, which weren't really bad ones, but just misread.

"Then I three-putted 15 and all of a sudden I knew I'm now on the back foot when I could have had quite a bit of momentum going my way,” he said. "But no one really got away and I'm right in it for tomorrow."

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, the highest profile Briton in the field, only managed a level-par 71 in Round 3 to remain on 4 under in total.