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Golf | SA

Tjaart van der Walt © Gallo Images

Tjaart joins Louis at the top

Tjaart van der Walt birdied the first four holes on Saturday at East London Golf Club and carded an eight-under-par 65 to take a share of the third-round lead of the Africa Open.

He goes into the final round at 21-under-par together with defending champion Louis Oosthuizen, one-stroke ahead of 2009 winner and two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen.

Van der Walt made nine birdies and one bogey – just his fourth of the tournament – as he traded blows with a pair of major champions without once stepping back or flinching.

“At the end of the day, the golf ball doesn’t know that they are major champions,” he said wryly. “I’ve played at the highest level, I’ve never won majors or big events, so who knows what can happen.”

In fact, Van der Walt, who turned professional in 1996, has yet to win a tournament, and goes into the final round of this tournament – co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour – having to fight off the attentions of two players who have, and within five strokes of him, there are three more who have tasted success.

But things looked good for the whole of the third round for him: “I do feel as if I am controlling the golf ball as well as I have in a long time,” he said, “not just tee to green, but on the greens as well. And that’s a good sign for me.”

In fact, things went so smoothly for him that he was almost unable to recall the bogey he made on eight. “I’m entitled to forget the one bad shot I hit all day,” he said.

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“I hit a bad tee shot, but luckily for me I was able to get a good drop on line of sight. I managed to get it on the green – and almost made the putt, actually!”

Oosthuizen also lost concentration briefly when he bogeyed the 11th. “It was an elementary mistake really,” he said. “Those little chip-outs seem easy, and I made the basic error of leaving it short of a tree for my approach to the green.”

He rallied with three birdies in the closing four holes to get back into the lead, while Goosen battled the rising wind on his approach to 18, depositing it into a greenside bunker.

He made par, but the gap he left Oosthuizen and Van der Walt was enough for them to each make birdie on pull into the lead.

Behind them, England’s Danny Willett bogeyed the 18th – his only slip of the day – on his way to an eight-under 65 and a three-round total of 19-under-par 200.

But the best score of the day belonged to the returning Richard Sterne: Out for most of last year with an injury, and playing an abbreviated 2010 season because of the injury, he showed he is on the mend with a fine nine-under 64.

It was bogey-free golf as he made seven birdies – six on the front nine – and an eagle to climb into fifth spot, two behind Willett.

Up ahead, Van der Walt will feel the pressure, but he’s ready for it. “Maybe I can hit it a little better and take the pressure off my putter tomorrow,” he said. “It would be nice to knock it close and make a couple.”

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