Thomas Aiken (Getty Images)
Johannesburg-born pair Thomas Aiken and Justin Walters will battle for a home win at the Joburg Open on Sunday after storming ahead during the third round at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.
Aiken shot a nine under par 63 over the East Course, while Walters responded with a 64 as the duo reached 17 under par – two clear of Korean Jin Jeong.
“I’ve been in a lot of final groups, won twice in Europe and seven times on the Sunshine Tour, so I know what pressures there are going to be,” said Aiken.
“If you just go and do what you do best, stick to your gameplan and take it shot by shot then the best golfer will win at the end of the day.”
Two-time European Tour winner Aiken struck his approach to three feet at the ninth to complete an outward 33, holed a 20 footer at the 11th then, after another birdie at the 12th, converted an unlikely 50 foot effort on the 14th.
The 30 year old then finished with a birdie from six feet at the 17th and got up-and-down at the par five last for a tenth gain of the day.
South Africans have won five of the seven stagings of this event, and Walters gave them a second shot at making it six from eight with seven birdies in his first 11 holes – notably an approach to six feet at the third and 40 foot putt at the 11th.
The 33 year old rose to prominence at the end of last season when he finished second in Portugal courtesy of a 60 foot putt on the final hole that saw him break down in tears as he secured his European Tour card two weeks after losing his mother to cancer, and his fighting qualities were on display again as he responded to a bogey at the 16th, where he found the back bunker, with a second to two feet at the par five 18th for a tap-in eagle.
“I hit the ball so well today,” said Walters. “Going into the day I just wanted to move forward a little bit, because my last attempt from this position I went quite backwards. I was aware of that and I made a strong effort to be aggressive today.
“I’ve got one more round tomorrow and I’m so happy that I’ve put myself into a strong position. I’m super excited for tomorrow, because it’s what we play for.”
Of his eagle at the last, Walters added: “Considering the situation I am in it was pretty vital, because giving him (Aiken) a nice lead on this course will make him hard to catch.
“To hit a close one in there on the last and to hear the grandstand roar from way back down the fairway gives you the goosebumps, and that’s why we play. It’s nice to give people something to cheer about.
“Tomorrow is certainly a good opportunity, and I will be nervous, but hopefully I can improve on my record in South Africa.”
Jeong, a winner in Perth at the end of 2013, had five birdies, an eagle and a single dropped shot in his round of 66, with Finland’s Roope Kakko a stroke further back in fourth following a 67.
Overnight leaders Edoardo Molinari and Craig Lee could only manage rounds of 72 and 74 respectively to lose ground on the leaders.
Three Open Championship places are also on offer tomorrow for those not already exempt and, with the only player in the top ten already qualified for Royal Liverpool France’s Grégory Bourdy, that contest also looks set to go down to the wire.