Spaniard Pablo Martin endured mixed fortunes in the third round of the South African Open Championships at Pearl Valley Golf Estates, but ended it where he started - on course for a second successive victory.
The 23 year old somehow scrambled his way to a level par 72 and with a closing birdie returned to 11 under par and a one stroke lead over Italian Edoardo Molinari.
Martin hit a spectator on the head when he flew over the green at the seventh, but holed a 20 foot effort for par.
Then, after bogeying the next two holes and falling into a tie with compatriot Alejandro Cañizares, he made an outrageous birdie at the short 12th when his tee shot, heading for the water, hit a rock and came out.
Winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship last Sunday, Martin could not escape from a wild drive down the 14th and double bogeyed, but he battled on and got his reward with a chip-and-putt four on the 601 yard last.
“The ball was going to some house on seven, and he kept me in play,” said Martin. “I got up and down from there. I gave him the ball and told him we could have a few beers later.”
Having battled to keep his game on track, Martin even decided to use his driver off the fairway on the 18th in an attempt to reverse his fortunes.
“I couldn’t get the green with a three wood, so I thought, ‘What the heck. Maybe it hits a tree and goes in the hole.’ Nothing bad can happen to me today,” he laughed.
“I can’t believe that either,” he said of the fact that he leads going into the final round.
While he looks to make it two wins out of two - and this a month after nearly losing his European Tour card - Molinari is seeking an amazing fifth victory in his last eight starts.
The 28 year old, round in a three under 69 despite having a double bogey himself on the seventh, needs only a top nine finish to move into the world's top 50 for the first time.
It would enable him to join his brother Francesco - they won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup together last month - in the Masters Tournament at Augusta next April, but the title would also take him fourth on Europe's Ryder Cup table.
That would be a stunning achievement for a player who played most of the year on the Challenge Tour, but since topping their money list he has won in Japan and China.
“I’ve played really well the last couple of months, and last week as well,” said Molinari.
“Finally this week, I started making a couple of putts, so I’m in a good position going into Sunday.”
Joint third are Denmark's Anders Hansen, Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed and South African James Kingston, winner two years ago.
Cañizares, son of former Ryder Cup player Jose Maria, took seven on the 13th as he fell to joint ninth five behind.
Alongside him are Scot Richie Ramsay, Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey and Louis Oosthuizen, who got the home fans cheering when he moved into third place, but then had an air shot over a tap-in bogey putt at the seventh.
His club caught the ground rather than the ball and he immediately told playing partner Cañizares he had taken a stroke.
American Hale Irwin did the same thing in the third round of the 1983 Open Championship at Birkdale and lost to Tom Watson by one the following day.
|T4||ANDERSSON HED, Fredrik||SWE||18||-11|
|T6||MARTIN BENAVIDES, Pablo||ESP||18||-10|