GEORGE, South Africa -- Branden Grace of South Africa and Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium had contrasting third rounds in wet and windy conditions to share the lead at the Volvo Golf Champions on Saturday. The European Tour event is limited to players who have won in the last year or own 10 or more career victories.
Grace made two double bogeys on his back nine to shoot a 2-over 75 and join Colsaerts (69) on 10-under 209.
South Africans Retief Goosen (70) and Charl Schwartzel (68) are a stroke back.
After two days of benign weather, the Links Course at Fancourt showed a glimpse of its fearsome reputation as the wind and intermittent rain made for a difficult day.
It took its toll on Spain’s Pablo Martin. The three-time European Tour winner shot a 90 to sit last on 20 over.
“Today the course played more like we know it,” said Goosen. “There were some holes where par was a very good score.”
The first six holes in particular played the toughest they have all week.
Grace came through that span at 2 over, while Colsaerts was happy to make it through in 1 under.
“I think I got a little lucky the first six holes,” Colsaerts said. “I could have easily been 2 or 3 over. I thought the first five or six holes were the toughest of the bunch today.”
He relied heavily on his big drives, particularly on the 549-yard, par-5 18th where he was left with an 8-iron into the green on his way to making an eagle.
“I hit an enormous drive, I don’t even know how far it went,” he said. “I think I had 186 yards to the front of the green. I think that if you find yourself in contention over the last couple of holes, you’ve got to go with your strength.”
Grace tried to remain positive about the double bogeys he made on the back nine. On the par-4 12th his drive kicked right and into a pot bunker, and on the par-3 17th he hit his tee shot over the green and very nearly into the hazard.
“The conditions were really tough out there and I always knew I would make mistakes,” he said. “Unfortunately it happened on the tough holes. But I still think I handled it pretty good. It was a long day and I’m still pleased to be at the top.”
European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal still has a chance to kick off Ryder Cup year with his first win in seven years -- from the depths of 596th in the world. He’s only two shots off the pace at 8 under par after a 1-under 72 that came after he drove into the bushes with his opening shot of the day and then took a double-bogey 5 on the 17th when his ball kicked into more trouble.
The Volvo Champions is a four-round, no-cut event for players who won last year on the European Tour or have 10 or more career victories.
Ireland's Padraig Harrington and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are one stroke further back, and then comes Ernie Els on 6 under.
Olazabal, who has already firmly ruled out the possibility of playing for an eighth time in the Ryder Cup, has been playing only a limited schedule the last few seasons because of his continuing battle with rheumatism.
"There's always a chance you might not win again when your game is off,'' he said. "It's hard to be positive at times, but I know I can fight. It would mean a lot. I do have a long journey ahead of me, but I'm ready for it and want to give myself the best chance.
"I'm excited about what I have to do, not so much about what might happen,” he added. “It would be a great achievement if I hit seven or eight solid drives -- just as I do on the range -- and shoot a solid score.''
Harrington finally won his battle with the 18th hole. After two double-bogey 7s, he two-putted for birdie like Olazabal and was round in a 3-under 70.
At 89th in the world, the three-major winner is trying to climb back into the top 64 in time for next month's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He can achieve that with a win on Sunday, although the cutoff point is not for another three weeks.
"There's a glaring part of my game missing -- my routine is not flowing -- but going forward I am quite positive I can fix that,'' Harrington said after making birdies at three of the last four holes to climb back into contention. "I did feel like giving fists up in the air after that birdie at the last, but I'm not getting into thinking about what could have been the other days.''
Colsaerts, who topped the driving distance statistics in Europe two years ago, must be wondering what is going to happen next, after rounds of 64, 76 and 69. and Grace was at Q-School only a month ago, but now has the chance of back-to-back victories after winning last week in the Joburg Open.
Martin, meanwhile, is 30 strokes back in last place after his round of 90 that contained a quadruple-bogey 8, a triple-bogey 7, four double bogeys and two bogeys. It must have made Colin Montgomerie feel considerably better about his 80.