Just one week after winning the Thailand Golf Championship by the greatest winning margin of any event in the world this year, Charl Schwartzel goes into the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship with a ten-shot lead and a plethora of records potentially set to fall at Leopard Creek.
After triumphing at the Asian Tour event in the Far East last Sunday by 11 strokes from America’s Bubba Watson and Thailand’s Thitiphun Chuayprakong, Schwartzel made the long trip back to his native South Africa looking to better his already-astonishing record in the event, having won once in December 2004 – the first to be staged at the stunning Malelane venue – and finished second a further four times, in the 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011 seasons.
And in this, the 19th edition of the Alfred Dunhill Championship, which also happens to be the 50th event to be co-sanctioned between The European Tour and the South African Sunshine Tour since the first in 1995, the 2011 Masters Tournament Champion has already surpassed certain tournament bests with a number of European Tour records also in sight.
At 21 under par with 18 holes to play, Schwartzel would equal the lowest-ever 72 holes to par – set at 29 under by Ernie Els at the 2003 Johnnie Walker Classic – if he were to shoot a third consecutive 64 on Sunday.
Els also currently holds the largest winning margin at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, when he triumphed by three strokes in December 2005, but far and above that Schwartzel has the biggest win of them all in view.
If the Johannesburg man was to continue the remarkable form he has so far exhibited this week at Leopard Creek, form that has seen him blow away he previous best 54-hole lead in the tournament of two shots, Schwartzel could potentially reach – or indeed better – the heady 15-shot winning margin set by Tiger Woods 12 years ago at the US Open Championship.
Schwartzel, though, steadfastly refused to be drawn on the scale of his lead.
“As a golfer you don’t like to think like that,” he told the assembled media following his third round.
“It is a nice comfort and I’d certainly rather be ten ahead than nine ahead. Whatever lead you can build is great.
“But we’ve all see what can happen in this game. I don’t want to think about it – if all goes well I’m going to be back in here at the end of Sunday to celebrate with you guys.”
Conversely, if any of the chasing pack – including Gregory Bourdy (ten back) and Kristoffer Broberg, Branden Grace or Steve Webster (all 11 behind) – were to mount an improbable comeback, they would need to equal or better a long-standing European Tour record.
Jamie Spence, in the 1992 Omega European Masters, shot a 12 under par 60 at Crans sur Sierre to overturn a ten-stroke deficit heading into the final round – an achievement matched in 1999 when Scotland’s Paul Lawrie came from ten back to force a play-off and subsequently win The 128th Open Championship at Carnoustie.
After early storms forced a 45-minute delay to the previously published tee times, leader Schwartzel and Bourdy will tee off at 1220 local time.
With the temperatures rising and the skies beginning to clear, the magnificent Leopard Creek – perched on the outskirts of the Kruger National Park – was set to stage an intriguing final afternoon in the second event of The 2013 Race to Dubai.