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Friday, 19 March 2010
Alfred Dunhill Championships - Previews  (Getty Images)
Alfred Dunhill Championships - Previews (Getty Images)

An amazing stroke of fortune enables Spaniard Pablo Martin to take a two stroke lead into the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.

Five clear at one point, the 23 year old double bogeyed the 14th and was in danger of dropping more strokes when his approach to the 541 yard last flew over the green.

But it ran over a narrow bridge towards the clubhouse, rebounded off rocks bordering the water, stayed dry and, despite a weak chip back, he saved his par.

The drama gave Martin, whose career took a downward turn after he became The European Tour's first amateur winner two years ago, a three under par 69 and 14 under total of 202.

Pre-tournament favourite Ernie Els was in danger of falling out of contention after mixing four birdies with four bogeys and then a double bogey over an eventful first 11 holes.

But Els - champion in 2005, but also remembered for finishing with an eight when two in front two years ago, birdied five of the last six holes.

He has so far birdied the 18th all three days, but the final round is the big test for the "Big Easy" - and for Martin, of course.

Els lies joint second with fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, who won on the Leopard Creek course himself in 2004.

Tied for fourth three behind are Northern Irishman Gareth Maybin, Irishman Damien McGrane and another home player, Jacques Blaauw.

Italian Edoardo Molinari, chasing an amazing fifth win in his last seven starts and a place in next April's Masters Tournament alongside his brother Francesco, dropped from joint second to 12th with a 72.

Molinari, top of last season's Challenge Tour before combining with Francesco to give Italy their first Omega Mission Hills World Cup victory, is 59th in the Official Golf World Rankings and hopes to make it into the top 50 by the end of next week to secure an Augusta invitation.

Els' motivation is that this is his last chance to extend a run of at least one win every year that stretches all the way back to 1991.

“That was a little wild,” he conceded afterwards. “At least there was not a shortage of birdies.”

He said after the second round that the course could produce big swings, and so it proved: “What was I, eight behind him, and I’ve seen big swings in the past on the back nine and that’s why this tournament is so exciting,” said Els.

“I was missing very short putts,” he said. “I felt my stance was a little closed, and when I missed a two-footer for birdie on 14, I said to my caddie Simon that I was going to open out a bit and I got a little run of good putts going.”

Martin was four clear after his second round 63 and was impressive again as he added birdies on the second, sixth and 13th.

But, bunkered off the tee on the 413 yard next, he failed to make it over the hazard short of the green and ran up a six.

It was all pars from there whereas Els, whose last success was in America in March last year, suddenly found form again.

“It was tense for me at the beginning,” said Martin. “It was the first time I have played with Ernie, and there was the issue of the crowds too, but after a while, I started to hit some good shots and I enjoyed the day.”

Schwartzel returned a 68, as did McGrane, while Maybin had a 67 to re-ignite his bid for a first European Tour title 12 months after he lost a play-off for the South African Open to Richard Sterne.

Schwartzel also had a scorecard dotted with bogeys, but was still happy with his position: “It’s about what you want to do in the third round,” he said.

“There was a lot of guys up there bunched up, and I thought if I could shoot something around the four-under or five-under mark, I was going to be close,” he added.


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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1MARTIN BENAVIDES, PabloESP18-17
2SCHWARTZEL, CharlRSA18-16
3HANSEN, AndersDEN18-14
T4MAYBIN, GarethNIR18-12
T4STERNE, RichardRSA18-12
T4ROCK, RobertENG18-12
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