Trevor Fisher Junior is an ex-South African Open leading amateur and he has been in strong contention in co-sanctioned events before, but he stands poised for his greatest triumph yet as he goes into the final round of the Africa Open at East London Golf Club with a two-shot lead.
Fisher Junior fired a magnificent nine-under-par 63 with seven birdies and an eagle on Saturday to vault to 16-under-par, a near-faultless display of precision golf in tricky, windy conditions.
The 35-year-old will be chased in the final round by second-round leader Matt Ford, who recovered well from a double-bogey on the par-four eighth to post a solid three-under-par 69, leaving him on 14-under for the tournament, and Jaco van Zyl, who played well but just could not sink enough putts to turn his 68 into something even better, leaving him on 12-under and four shots back.
Fisher Junior, who started the day three shots behind Ford, was off to a fast start as he birdied the first hole and then nailed a long eagle putt on the third.
The South African picked up a birdie on the eighth too, before a top-class display of golf on the back 10 saw him come home in five-under-par 34.
“It was really nice, a big surprise in fact because I didn’t think I would shoot a 63. But I just stayed in the moment and didn’t count my shots, I stayed really focused and everything just went right. I hit the ball well but I also sank some crucial putts and that’s the difference between shooting four-under and nine-under,” Fisher Junior said.
The reigning Chase to the Investec Cup champion claimed the lead when he sank a monster 65-foot birdie putt on the par-four 13th, Ford having just dropped two shots on the eighth when he found the bunker with his approach, hit his third over the green, was short with his fourth, on for five and then putted for a six.
Fisher Junior sealed the deal with three birdies in his last four holes and he said he will just go out and enjoy the experience of leading in Sunday’s final round.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, I’m going to have a smile on my face. When you’re younger, you tend to try too hard, but now that I’m more mature I realise that it’s just a game and I’m lucky to be playing it. Having kids also gives you a whole new perspective, and I’m just going to enjoy the view tomorrow,” Fisher Junior said.
The Modderfontein golfer tied for third in the 2012 Joburg Open and has six other top-10 finishes in co-sanctioned events (including a tied-fourth in the Africa Open in 2010), and when he overtook George Coetzee to win the Investec Cup and claim the R3.5 million bonus pool, it gave him the belief that he could also win on the European Tour.
“You learn from every experience but the Investec Cup was invaluable and I now know how to handle the pressure of trying to win on the final day. It’s about managing your game, where to be and where not to be. But you also have to hit the ball well and putt well,” Fisher Junior said.
Three birdies in the first seven holes had kept Ford comfortably in the lead until the disaster on the eighth, but the composure the European Tour rookie showed in rebounding from that was impressive.
“I’ve been working on the mental side for a while and it’s always good to bounce back. It was a roller-coaster round, there were quite a few emotions and I’m a bit drained now,” Ford said after his round.
“I would have taken three-under at the beginning of the round and there were more good shots than bad. Like a swan, it might look calm on the outside, but the feet are going mad underneath. But I try not to get too involved in the emotional side because you can’t play good golf with too much emotion,” Ford said.
The 36-year-old also sank an enormous putt for birdie on the 13th, but then dropped a shot on the par-four 14th before coming to the clubhouse with pars.
Van Zyl has had to beat double knee-surgery and off-course travails in the last year and has done so in amazing fashion. The only ills that were worrying him on Saturday were judging the wind and reading the lines when putting.
Like his compatriot Fisher Junior, Van Zyl started his round with a birdie at the first and an eagle on the third, but he failed to build on that, only managing to post pars before he dropped a shot at the ninth. Birdies on the 10th and 12th holes were then followed by another run of pars.
“I got off to a flying start, but then I battled to see the lines from 13 on. I was rolling the ball nicely and I gave myself lots of opportunities, but I was always wondering about the lines. Anyway, I’m really enjoying being in the mix,” Van Zyl said.
The other leading South African, Erik van Rooyen, was undone by three bogeys on the front nine and was on six-under after a 74.
Morten Orum Madsen, the 2014 SA Open champion, was the other big mover on the third day, shooting a 64 to climb to 10-under par with Jorge Campillo, John Parry and Edoardo de la Riva, but the brilliance of Fisher Junior meant the Dane was six shots off the pace.