Darren Fichardt and Des Terblanche of South Africa revelled in the baking heat of Johannesburg to set up the opportunity of winning the Mercedes-Benz SA Open title and a passport onto the European Tour.
Fichardt, 24, leads the championship with a 14 under par total of 202 following a swashbuckling third round of 67. The newly-wed from Pretoria holds a one stroke lead over 35 year old Terblanche from Vryburg, who carded the second lowest score of the day, a seven under par 65.
That effort was eclipsed by a remarkable new course record of 63 by Sheffield’s John Mellor, who was the final player to make the cut on level par on Friday night. He returned to Randpark Club for a 6.58am start and proceeded to compile eight birdies and a glorious eagle.
In the space of three and a quarter hours, Mellor had moved from joint last to joint first with Fichardt and Paul Eales at nine under par. By the end of the day Mellor was in a seven-way tie for fourth place behind Fichardt, Terblanche and Eales.
Meanwhile Fichardt made a big move early in his round. With his parents and new bride, Natasha, in the galleries, he made two two's in the first six holes and climaxed his round by sinking a full sand wedge for an eagle three at the fifth from 116 yards.
Although he dropped a couple of shots around the turn, he responded to a glance at the leaderboard, where he noticed Terblanche had taken the lead. A six iron to ten feet at the 15th set up another two and he got up and down from a bunker at the last for a final birdie.
Both Fichardt and Terblanche go into the final round with high hopes of the title and their European Tour exemptions. Fichardt said: “I am playing really well and there is no reason why I can’t win. I told my wife that if I do we’ll pack our bags and go and play in Europe.”
Terblanche, who collected four birdies in a row from the tenth, added: “I would take my card now. I’ve paid my affiliate membership fee and would be very excited about going to play on the European Tour.”
Eales, who shared the overnight lead, made no mistakes but managed to gather just three birdies in a round of 69 which leaves him as the leading European challenger on 204, 12 under par.
On a day when Lee Westwood (72) made no headway, the former assistant at his club of Worksop conjured up the round of a lifetime. Mellor, whose previous lowest score on Tour was 65, underwent some energetic physiotherapy on a sore back before teeing off with a marker.
He turned in 33 and charged home in 30, holing out from 103 yards with a sand wedge for an eagle two at the 14th. He said: “I’ve never shot nine under par before, apart from in social golf. I pulled something in my back yesterday and went out nice and relaxed because I wasn’t expecting to much.”
Westwood, at seven under par, has a seven-stroke gap to close on Fichardt, while Ian Woosnam fared even less well with a 74 for 210, six under par. However Retief Goosen, the last champion at Randpark in 1995, moved stealthily through the field with a 68 for 207 while one shot further behind is 1994 Open champion, Nick Price, who recorded a bogey-free 67.