Molinari swaps bushes for birdies
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.