Darren Fichardt (Getty Images)
Darren Fichardt finished with a hat-trick of birdies to be part of a four-way tie for the lead after three rounds of the inaugural Tshwane Open.
The South African first round leader, who had slipped back with a second round 71, shot a brilliant eight under par 64 to join compatriots Charl Coetzee and Dawie Van Der Walt and Chile’s Mark Tullo on 16 under at Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate.
On a day when almost two hours were lost to a storm, halfway leader Coetzee, Van Der Walt and Tullo all picked up a late birdie after recent Africa Open winner Fichardt had set a fierce clubhouse pace.
“I was upset with yesterday’s round and I fell back to four behind - I wanted to catch that up and get into the mix for tomorrow,” said Fichardt, who is the only player in the top six with a European Tour title to his name.
“I’m just hitting the right shots at the right time and making crucial putts. If I do hit a bad shot I recover from it and that’s what adds up to good scores, so I’m very happy with my game right now.”
For most of the day Coetzee and Tullo looked likely to be the ones to catch on Sunday, but after the delay Fichardt birdied his final three holes and Van Der Walt picked up shots on two of his final three holes.
Tullo, fifth behind Fichardt a fortnight ago, is looking to establish himself on The European Tour after his rookie campaign in 2011 ended with the heartache of losing his card by just €1,277, before he returned via last season’s Challenge Tour.
A hat-trick of birdies from the sixth ignited the 35 year old’s challenge, and his 67 means he has now not dropped a shot over the 54 holes played.
Neither has Van Der Walt, who matched the Chilean’s 67, while Coetzee was in no mood to surrender his chances of a first professional victory; five birdies on the back nine keeping his hopes alive.
“It’s good not to make bogeys,” said Van Der Walt. “If you make one then you have to make two birdies to be under par.
“Tomorrow is going to be a tough day - the course is fairly wide, so it’s really about hitting it close and making some putts.”
Coetzee admitted front-running was unfamiliar territory, but hopes to hold his nerve over the final 18 holes.
“This is a new experience for me and I’m loving it, so I’m just trying to enjoy it,” he said.
“Who knows what happens tomorrow? Enjoying it is the most important thing because it keeps me nice and calm, nice and relaxed and I can just focus on what I need to do.
“I felt like I played really nicely on the back nine, although I felt like the bogeys were a little unnecessary.”
South Africans have won four of the first five co-sanctioned European Tour and Sunshine Tour events this season, and their odds of making it five from six were boosted further as Louis De Jager moved into fifth - one adrift – with a 65.
Former US Amateur Champion Peter Uihlein is sixth after a 68, while ex-Ryder Cup star David Howell is far from out of it after a 67 left him three back in seventh place.