Schwartzel title defence gathers pace

11/30/2013 2:34:00 PM
Charl Schwartzel  (Getty Images)
Charl Schwartzel (Getty Images)

Charl Schwartzel looks on course to defend his Alfred Dunhill Championship title after pulling two shots clear with a third round 67.

A winner at Leopard Creek Country Club by 12 shots last year, Schwartzel cruised to 13 under par to lead England’s Richard Finch by two shots, with Frenchman Victor Riu a shot further back in third.

"I played a lot better today I think than the first two days, I felt more comfortable and hit more aggressive and positive shots," said Schwartzel.

"The one or two holes I didn't feel comfortable I just backed off a little bit and made par and carried on. Just try to keep the board ticking over was basically the plan for today.

"I gave myself a lot of chances but it is hard to make a lot of putts, but if things went your way it could have been really low.

"I've got a two shot lead and basically the same plan for tomorrow, if I can just keep going that way I will apply pressure to everyone and someone will have to play really well to catch me."

Schwartzel has now gone 44 holes without dropping a shot and added: "If I keep playing the way I am there is no reason to make any [bogeys]. If you keep thinking well around the course and executing the shots you should just keep making birdies.

"It's one of those courses where on all the right lines I feel comfortable, it's mostly right in front of you and it helps that I've had good success."

Schwartzel started the day in a share of the lead with Denmark's Morten Ørum Madsen, the man who took advantage of late collapses from Schwartzel and Hennie Otto to win his maiden European Tour title in Johannesburg last week.

But while Madsen got off to a disappointing start with bogeys at the first two holes and eventually struggled to a 79, Schwartzel birdied the par five second and then made a potentially decisive move around the turn.

A superb approach to the eighth left the South African with a tap-in birdie and another followed from six feet on the ninth to be out in 32.

Further birdies on the 12th and 13th took Schwartzel to 13 under par and although he failed to take advantage of the par five 15th or 18th, the World Number 21 will be a strong favourite to win the event for a third time.

Finch lost his European Tour card after a disappointing 2013 and failed to regain it at Qualifying School, but victory would hand him the reprieve of a place on The 2014 Race to Dubai.

However, the two-time European Tour winner is well aware that the leader will be hard to catch on a course where Schwartzel won his first European Tour title in 2005 and has had four runner-up finishes.

“If he goes out and shoots a 65, it’s done and dusted,” said Finch. “He’s one of the best players in the world.”

Riu would have been level with Finch in second place but for a bogey six on the 18th. 

“I took a pitching wedge in instead of a 56-degree wedge,” he explained. “I went right over the pin, and I had a very difficult putt from off the green, so I ended up three-putting.”