Overnight leader Matt Ford was unable to keep up with a dazzling Trevor Fisher Junior, who shot a superb nine-under-par 63, on the third day of the Africa Open at East London Golf Club on Saturday.
Fisher Junior’s magnificent round, which featured seven birdies and an eagle, saw him finish the penultimate round on 16-under-par.
Ford posted a solid three-under-par 69 to go into the final round on 14-under, while the Englishman was joined in contention for the co-sanctioned title by South African Jaco van Zyl, who shot a 68 and is on 12-under-par.
The other golfers in the top six after the second round faded, with John Parry shooting a 69 to be 10-under, Mark Tullo posting a 70 to be on nine-under and South African Erik van Rooyen slipped all the way back to six-under after a 74.
Fisher Junior tied for third in the 2012 Joburg Open and for fourth in the 2010 Africa Open, and has five other top-10 finishes in co-sanctioned events, but he says he has learnt how to win after he overtook George Coetzee to win the Investec Cup last year and claim the R3.5 million bonus pool.
“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.
While Fisher Junior was rolling in putts from everywhere – including an extraordinary 65-foot effort for birdie on the 13th – his compatriot, Van Zyl, was nonplussed by the greens. Despite playing beautifully from tee to green, he could only collect three birdies and an eagle.
“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.
Van Zyl’s only bogey came on the ninth hole when he missed a short putt for par, while Ford made his mistakes on the par-four eighth and 13th holes.
Ford was three-under-par for his round and comfortably holding on to the lead when he stepped on to the eighth tee and took on the short dogleg to the right. The Englishman put his second into the bunker, went over the green with his third, was short of the putting surface with his fourth, on for five and then putted for double-bogey.
But the man who finally won his European Tour card on his 10th visit to Qualifying School is still on track for a maiden title.
“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.
Fisher Junior has led before going into the final round of a co-sanctioned event but failed to seal the deal, but he said he now has a fresh perspective and golf is no longer a daily grind for the 35-year-old.
“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.
Ford, who would have been delivering mail as a postman if he hadn’t finally gained his tour card last November, is similarly philosophical heading into the biggest day of his career.
“Tomorrow is going to be a lot of learning. What I’ve learnt today will hopefully put me in good stead for the final round,” the mellow 36-year-old said.