South African Darren Fichardt is on course to claim his third European Tour title after a quite superb two under par 69 in the third round of the Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize OBC.
As the rest of the field toiled in the strong winds at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club, Fichardt accelerated into a five shot lead thanks to a blistering front nine, which featured five consecutive birdies from the fifth hole.
Overnight leader Sihwan Kim of Korea endured a torrid start, dropping six shots in his opening seven holes and ultimately signing for an 81, and so tricky were the conditions that Simon Wakefield was the only other player in the red, a third round 72 leaving him in second place at two under.
Fichardt made light work of the wind, however, and even bogeys at the 12th, 13th and 17th could not prevent him from taking a sizeable lead into the final day of the €500,000 event, which is dual-ranked between The European Tour and the Challenge Tour.
“I knew it would be a hectic day when we started,” said the 37 year old. “But it turned out to be absolutely brutal. The string of birdies on the front nine helped separate me from the rest of the field and it was just a question of hanging on on the back nine. The birdies were a combination of hitting it close and holing some good putts.
“The back nine was something else. I was having to smash drives just to reach the fairway. I definitely needed all my experience and patience today.
“Last week (when he was tied 14th at the Nordea Masters) helped a lot, as that was a brutal golf course with difficult greens, and I just had to keep plugging away. If you make a bogey, you just have to shrug it off and move on, because everyone is going to make bogeys in conditions like these.”
Fichardt has two European Tour titles to his name – the 2001 Sao Paulo Brazil Open and the 2003 Qatar Masters – and has also played in the World Cup, appearing alongside Retief Goosen in 2000.
Asked whether his experience of winning will stand him in good stead for the final round, Fichardt said: “Definitely. It has been quite a few years since I won on The European Tour, but I’ve won a couple of titles in South Africa in the last couple of seasons. I know what it takes to get the job done and it’s all good experience.
“But golf is an unpredictable game and tomorrow could bring anything. I’ll just keep playing my game and try to get over the line.”