Denmark’s Søren Hansen withstood a strong French resistance in the shape of Gregory Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin to carve himself a one shot lead at the end of the third round of the dunhill championship at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg.
On a day when idyllic conditions brought the scoring best out of the field in the joint sanctioned event between The European Tour and the Sunshine Tour, Hansen’s third round 65 for an 18 under par total of 198 gave him pole position by the narrowest of margins and the perfect platform to bid for his second European Tour title.
Havret, also looking for his second European Tour victory, went one better than the Dane with a sparkling 64 for a 17 under par total of 199 and he was joined on that mark in second place by his fellow Frenchman Jacquelin thanks to an eagle three at the last for a third round 68.
But the main plaudits of the day belonged to Hansen, who rattled in seven birdies in total in his flawless effort and indeed has only dropped two shots in his 54 holes to date.
Most spectacular birdie putt of the day for the winner of the 2002 Murphy’s Irish Open came right in front of the clubhouse on the ninth green, Hansen eliciting huge cheers from the galleries as his 30 foot effort right across the putting surface, dropped into the cup.
However, the birdie to claim the outright lead was just as impressive, firing a six iron to 20 feet at the 531 yard hole after having had bunker trouble from the tee, and rolling that in too to give him his first pole position going into a last round since the Dutch Open last October.
Then Hansen finished second behind Maarten Lafeber and admitted perhaps he had tried to play too pure a golf game instead of scrapping for the title, an aspect of the game he has tried to address in reflection over the winter.
“Because of the situation, sometimes in the last round you can’t expect to hit the ball as well as you have done over the second and third rounds, so you sometimes need to be able to chip it up and down, or chip it in even,” he said.
“I don’t expect to go out and play as well as the last two days, you need to have a little bit of a scrambling going on on the last day and last year I didn’t expect that. Tomorrow I will.”
It was a lesson adhered to by Havret in the third round, the winner of the 2001 Atlanet Italian Open peppering his superb 64 with eight birdies, the highlight of which was his birdie three at the 17th where he holed his bunker shot from 20 feet.
The wonder stroke came in the middle of birdies at the par five 16th and 18th and, allied to an excellent start which saw him birdie five of the first six holes, moved him firmly into contention.
Although the nine hole stretch between the seventh and 15th did not yield any birdies for the Frenchman, perhaps more importantly it did not yield any bogeys either, several brave par efforts keeping the momentum of his round going, and he admitted he was looking forward to the challenge of the final round.
“I feel the pressure but I like it,” he said. “I like to see people everywhere watching me, I like to have all my friends on the phone happy for me and my family of course, all these kind of things are important for me. That is the reason I play golf.”
Compatriot Jacquelin did not have quite as good a scoring day as his fellow countryman but, having started in the lead, he maintained a prominent position with a 68, his round crowned with a superb eagle three at the 18th, holing from 12 feet after his three wood second had arrowed the heart of the green.
“I hit the ball pretty good today, not as good as yesterday perhaps and my putting was not as good,” he said. “I made a few mistakes but the good thing is that I am still in contention and I hope to hit my putts a bit better tomorrow.”
Germany’s Marcel Siem moved into fourth place on 16 under par 200 after his third round 68 while the biggest move of the day was made by Welshman Bradley Dredge, who started the day in a share of 20th spot but who moved up to fifth outright on 15 under par 201 after a sublime third round 63, which equalled the best round of the tournament.
“To be honest I am quite surprised to be playing so well so early really,” said the winner of the 2003 Madeira Island Open. “Last year I noticed that I was getting the club laid off quite a bit at the top of the swing. I don’t really like to fiddle with my swing that much but at the end of last year I said to Scott (Cranfield) that we have to do something about it so we started working on it, trying to get it a little bit more on line.
“It is not quite natural yet, I’m still having to think about it, but it is coming along and when I hit a good shot, it comes out perfectly and that is the sort of thing that I am after.”
With the Houghton course in as receptive condition as it is, low scoring is possible so anyone in the upper echelons of the leaderboard could come through to triumph. One player in that category is Trevor Immelman, who moved up into a share of eighth on 13 under par 203 after a third round 64.
“If I can play the way I did today and can get the putter going like it was last week, you never know what will happen,” said the winner of last week’s South African Airways Open.