Moli­nari swaps bushes for birdies

The Sunday Independent - - SPORT -

SUN CITY: Italy’s Francesco Moli­nari showed here yes­ter­day that it is pos­si­ble to go low at this year’s de­mand­ing Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge.

The 35-year-old, who cel­e­brated his birth­day last Wed­nes­day, bet­tered his Fri­day score by 10 shots when he posted a scin­til­lat­ing 65 at the Gary Player Coun­try Club yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to shoot straight into con­tention at the tour­na­ment.

He is tied fifth at three­un­der 213 af­ter three rounds, five off the lead set by Scot­land’s Scott Jamieson, af­ter mak­ing seven birdies in a blem­ish­free round.

On Fri­day, Moli­nari made only two birdies to go with five bo­geys for a 75, while in his first round on Thurs­day there were four bo­geys and three birdies in a round of 73.

Moli­nari said af­ter his 65 that he is de­lighted to be in with a chance go­ing into to­day’s fi­nal round. “It’s golf, I can’t ex­plain it,” he said about his turn-around.

“I was ac­tu­ally laugh­ing yes­ter­day be­cause I couldn’t hit the ball off the tee. I went in the bushes so many times my arms are full of scratches.

“It was a tough round on Fri­day and ac­tu­ally amaz­ing that I was only three over, be­cause it could have been much higher.

“What can I say ... I’m thrilled about to­day. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing it and I just don’t know what to ex­pect to­mor­row. Let’s see which Moli­nari shows up.

“I’ll do my best though to try be ag­gres­sive. The key is keep­ing the ball in play off the tee be­cause I am ac­tu­ally putting well at the mo­ment.”

Moli­nari will be very aware that last year’s cham­pion, Alex Noren, came from be­ing six be­hind the leader on the fi­nal day to win the 2016 tour­na­ment by six strokes af­ter post­ing a 63 on the Sun­day.

“Yes, there was a big swing on the fi­nal day last year so it will be amaz­ing (if that hap­pened to me as well) af­ter the first two days I’ve had here,” said Moli­nari. “I just want to try gain some spots on the leader­board and fin­ish well.”

Twelve play­ers, in­clud­ing Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Haydn Por­te­ous, are within six shots of Jamieson, so there are sev­eral play­ers who will have gone to sleep last night be­liev­ing they can pull off a “Noren” to­day to win “Africa’s Ma­jor”. SUN CITY: De­spite mak­ing a bo­gey five at the par-four 18th hole yes­ter­day – his first for the week on the back nine – Branden Grace was still able to post a four-un­der-par 68 to be at five-un­der over­all and three shots off the lead go­ing into to­day’s fi­nal round of the 2017 Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge here.

Un­til the 18th yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, the Fan­court-based player had owned the back nine at the Gary Player Coun­try Club, hav­ing made 10 birdies and an ea­gle since the tour­na­ment started on Thurs­day.

On the front nine he made four birdies, but also four bo­geys and three dou­ble bo­geys, some­thing he ad­mit­ted af­ter his round he would have to get right if he is to se­ri­ously chal­lenge for the ti­tle to­day.

Grace is three shots be­hind new leader, Scot­land’s Scott Jamieson, who was blem­ish-free in go­ing around in 67 shots yes­ter­day to be at eight-un­der 208 af­ter mak­ing five birdies, while overnight leader Vic­tor Dubuis­son is at seven-un­der, just one be­hind, af­ter a 71.

Af­ter go­ing out in 42 in Fri­day’s sec­ond round Grace said it was cru­cial to come back strongly yes­ter­day to give him­self a chance of vic­tory to­day: “I’m a grinder and Fri­day’s round was cer­tainly not the best, es­pe­cially that front nine. To­day was also not great on the front, so I was happy to be un­der par (one-un­der 35) at the turn. It was a grind again, but I’ve given my­self a chance and a lot can still hap­pen. Hope­fully I can pull off a Noren on Sun­day,” Grace joked about last year’s win­ner Alex Noren who turned around a six-shot deficit on the Sun­day to win by six.

“The key is to get a good start, get that front nine un­der con­trol, like I did to­day, and then push on the back. I’m very ex­cited to be in this po­si­tion ... hope­fully it’s third time lucky for me.”

Jamieson, who opened with a 68 and made a solid 73 in tough con­di­tions on Fri­day, was one of only a hand­ful of play­ers to not drop a shot to par yes­ter­day. He made five birdies in an­other steady round of golf which has left him in pole po­si­tion to win ‘Africa’s Ma­jor’ to­day.

“I’ll take that for sure,” said the 33-year-old whose only win on the Euro­pean Tour came in 2013 at the now de­funct Nel­son Man­dela Cham­pi­onship at Royal Dur­ban.

“I need a good fin­ish here to get into Dubai (this com­ing week) so that’s at the back of my mind, but I first want to win the tour­na­ment; the rest will then take care of it­self.

“It’s great to be in this po­si­tion and the key will be to stay calm be­tween the ears, to not panic, even if I hit a bad shot. I’ve won from be­ing six be­hind and lost from be­ing five in front so I’ve got some ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind me.”

Con­di­tions yes­ter­day were near per­fect af­ter the strong winds of Fri­day and the scor­ing, too, was much bet­ter. South Africa’s Haydn Por­te­ous posted a five-un­der 67 to be at three-un­der, while Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleet­wood hit back af­ter a dif­fi­cult first two days to also post a 67. He’s at two-un­der and tied for sev­enth.

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