Colsaerts and Grace hold narrow advantage

21/01/2012 15:14:42
Nicolas Colsaerts  (Getty Images)
Nicolas Colsaerts (Getty Images)
Nicolas Colsaerts and Branden Grace - who individually held four shot leads on the first and second days - are tied at the top with a round to play in the Volvo Golf Champions.

But just behind them European Captain José María Olazábal still has a chance to kick off Ryder Cup year with his first win since 2005 - from 596th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

After a wet and wild day that saw overnight leader Grace take 75, Olazábal is only two shots off the pace at Fancourt in South Africa.

By far the lowest-ranked player in the 35-man winners-only European Tour event, the 46 year old stands eight under par, two behind Grace and Belgian Colsaerts.

Olazábal managed a one under par 72 despite driving into the bushes with his opening shot of the day and then taking a double bogey five on the 17th when his ball kicked into more trouble.

That looked to be very costly, but Grace - four clear at halfway just like Colsaerts had been after his opening course record 64 - double-bogeyed the same hole.

In contrast, big-hitting Colsaerts eagled the last from 50 feet for a 69, needing only a drive and eight iron to make the green on the 549 yarder.

He and Grace, last man in after winning last week's Joburg Open, are a shot in front of two more South Africans, Retief Goosen and Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel, with Olazábal alone in fifth.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington and 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen are one stroke further back and then comes Ernie Els on six under.

Olazábal has been playing only a limited schedule the last few seasons because of his continuing battle with rheumatism.

"There's always a chance you might not win again when your game is off," he said. "It's hard to be positive at times, but I know I can fight.

"It would mean a lot. I do have a long journey ahead of me, but I'm ready for it and want to give myself the best chance.

"I'm excited about what I have to do, not so much about what might happen. It would be a great achievement if I hit seven or eight solid drives - just as I do on the range - and shoot a solid score."

Harrington finally won his battle with the 18th hole. After two double bogey sevens he two-putted for birdie like Olazábal and was round in a three under 70.

At 89th in the Official World Golf ranking the three-time Major winner is trying to climb back into the top 64 in time for next month's World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play.

He can achieve that with a win here, although the cut-off point is not for another three weeks.

"There's a glaring part of my game missing - my routine is not flowing - but going forward I am quite positive I can fix that," Harrington said after making birdies at three of the last four holes to climb back into contention.

"I did feel like giving fists up in the air after that birdie at the last, but I'm not getting into thinking about what could have been the other days."

Colsaerts, who topped the driving distance statistics in Europe two years ago, did not even know how far his closing drive went, simply describing it as "enormous".

His eight iron, though, flew 200 yards downwind and he said making the putt that followed was "the cherry on top".

The 29 year old from Brussels must be wondering what is going to happen next, though, after rounds of 64, 76 and 69.

Grace was at The European Tour Qualifying School only a month ago, but now has the chance of back-to-back victories.

“I played really well today,” he said. “Conditions were tough out there - we always knew there was going to be bogeys on the card - nothing you can do about it.  

“I just had a couple unlucky shots that didn't bounce anyway in the fairways and got into pot bunkers and it happened on the tough holes which is a bit unfortunate.

“But otherwise, I'm still really happy with the way I played and I thought I handled it really good. It was a long day so I'm still pleased to be at the top.”