Fisher, Sterne lead two-horse race
Trevor Fisher Jnr and Richard Sterne battled out a fascinating duel on day three of the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club’s East course on Saturday, and four-under rounds of 68 for each have seen them reach 19 under par and a share of a five-stroke lead.
South Africans Jaco van Zyl (67), Charl Schwartzel (68) and George Coetzee (70) share third place on 14 under with Chile’s Felipe Aguilar (68), while American Peter Uihlein finds himself in sole possession of seventh place a further stroke adrift.
The leading duo locked horns from the start, with a birdie apiece on the par-five first hole. Sterne then birdied the par-five sixth to briefly claim the lead, but three successive birdies from Fisher to close out the front nine saw him go clear of his compatriot.
Fisher then cancelled out bogeys at the 10th and 11th with successive birdies on the following two holes, and Sterne’s birdie at the 11th saw parity restored.
A chunked chip from Fisher cost him a shot at the par-four 15th, but Sterne also faltered as he recorded his first blemish of the tournament at the same hole.
Both men then had to wait patiently to hit their approach shots to the 18th, as Schwartzel, who was playing in front of them, debated at length over a ruling after finding the grandstand with his second shot. However, they collected themselves to finish their rounds off with a birdie.
Fisher admitted that the pressure had got the better of him just after the turn, and that he was acutely aware of the sense of occasion. However, he was relieved to have hung in and was satisfied with his final score.
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“The nerves definitely set in a bit at 10 and 11. Obviously you try not to think about the situation, but it’s there in front of you. I made one or two silly bogeys today, but I’ll take 68,” Fisher told the media after his round.
He added: “We’ve got a chance tomorrow. I mean, there are still guys behind us as well. It’s the kind of course where if you get going with a few birdies, you can shoot low. But I just need to put my head down tomorrow, do my work, and see what happens.”
Fisher, a three-time Sunshine Tour winner in 2012, enjoyed the day with his playing partner Sterne, and had viewed the round as a head-to-head encounter.
“It almost felt like a matchplay situation out there. I kind of forgot about the rest of the field. Although most of the crowd were watching Charl (Schwartzel) and George (Coetzee) up ahead, so it almost felt like we were playing behind the field,” Fisher laughed.
“But it was a good challenge against him today. He made birdies, then I fell behind and pulled it back. But it was a nice rivalry out there today, and it was quite chilled to be honest. We chatted and had a few laughs. Richard’s a good guy and a great player, so it’s going to be a battle out there tomorrow for sure,” he added.
Sterne, whose birdie at the 18th came courtesy of a superb sand save, revealed that he was unaware if he and Fisher were under threat from the players in front of them, and simply tried to stick to his game plan.
“I wasn’t really following what was going on ahead - I was just trying to do my own thing. I normally look at leaderboards, but there weren’t that many up on the back nine. I saw Charl had reached 14-under so I thought he would birdie the last. But then he had all those troubles on the right, and I wasn’t sure what was happening there.
"It’s his fault I hit such a bad second shot – we waited ages!” Sterne joked.
The 31 year-old did have warmer words for his compatriot Fisher though.
“It was great playing with Trevor today. We’ve played a lot of amateur golf together and he’s a very good player. He definitely has the game to be on the European Tour, and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through. But hopefully I can go out there tomorrow and get the win,” the five-time European Tour winner said.
Van Zyl’s five-under round on the day proved to be the best of the challengers who finished on 14-under, and the 33 year-old was satisfied with his efforts despite an eagle putt that cruelly lipped out of the 18th hole.
“I’m five off the pace which obviously leaves me a long way off. But I feel like I’m playing nicely and my game is there. Who knows, maybe I can have a low round tomorrow and then anything can happen,” Van Zyl said.
Coetzee, who still seeks a maiden European Tour win, struggled on the day, and at one stage had slipped back to 11-under.
However, the burly Pretorian closed his round out with three successive birdies, and regained a slim chance of getting the monkey off his back this week.
Schwartzel emerged from his troubles at the 18th with a hard-earned par to stay in the group at 14-under after twice ricocheting off the hospitality suites.
But the round of the day went to 2011 Alfred Dunhill champion Garth Mulroy, whose seven-under 65 catapulted him into a five-way share of eighth place at 12-under.