England's Richard Finch chipped in for an eagle-3 on the eighth hole Saturday as he maintained his challenge on a rain-shortened third day in the Joburg Open. The tournament is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and southern Africa’s Sunshine Tour.
Finch was tied for the lead on 15 under with South African Branden Grace when the day's play was suspended as heavy storms hit the East Course of the Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. Third-round play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday with two dozen players left to finish before the fourth round begins.
The Joburg Open joined the European Tour schedule in 2007, and has been played in early January every year.
Finch had shared the lead with fellow Englishman Robert Rock and South Africa's George Coetzee at the start of the third round, and kept his victory bid intact as Grace came through to challenge with three birdies just before play was brought to a premature halt.
The round started well for Finch as he claimed an opening-hole birdie, but he was joined by both Rock and Coetzee, who also claimed birdies. All three made par on the second but Rock paid for a short approach shot on the third and dropped a shot, Coetzee making par and Finch seeing his birdie putt lip out.
Coetzee made par on No. 4, but when Finch dropped a shot he joined a group of six, including Rock and Retief Goosen, on 11 under.
Finch just failed with a birdie putt on the par-3 fifth as both Rock and Coetzee made par. Coetzee went two ahead on the sixth hole when he kept his nerve to make a birdie after his eagle putt from near the back edge of the green was well short. Rock held on for a scrappy par, but Finch cut the lead back to one when he rolled in a birdie to go to 12 under, one behind Coetzee.
The round hinged on Finch's chip-in from the greenside bunker on the eighth for his eagle as Coetzee then saw his birdie putt lip out. That brought Finch level with Coetzee on 13 under and the former then birdied again to go one ahead. However, Coetzee birdied the 10th to haul himself back level with Finch.
A birdie on 13 took Finch to 15 under and as Coetzee's bid faltered it was Grace who put himself in contention. Grace hit three birdies in a row from 13 to 15, for five in total in the round, to join Finch on 15 under when the rain got heavier and the organizers took the players off.
Canada's Andrew Parr and Dawie van der Walt had completed their third rounds on 12 under par but van der Walt's fellow South African Jbe Kruger, on the same total, still three holes to complete when a halt was called.
England's Danny Willett had also finished his round for 11 under and he was joined by Michiel Bothma and Rock, who had completed 16 and 14 holes respectively.
Goosen was among a group of six players on 10 under.