Pulkkanen followed up his first round 65 on the Bushwillow course with an even better 64 on the Firethorn layout. Photo Credit: Catherine Kotze/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - If the scoring over the last two days is anything to go by – and if the rain stays away – golfing fans can expect a treat over the weekend when the 2018 edition of the Joburg Open wraps up at the Randpark Golf Club.

With play on the Bushwillow course now done and dusted, the players will now focus their attention on the trickier and more demanding Firethorn course for the third and final rounds. And while little-known Finnish golfer Tapio Pulkkanen holds the lead by one shot going into today’s third round, there are a host of players just off the pace with the class and desire to make the next two days hugely entertaining – and interesting.

The 26-year-old Pulkkanen – the winner of the European Tour’s Challenge Tour this year – followed up his first round 65 on the Bushwillow course with an even better 64 on the Firethorn layout on Friday to be at 14-under-par. He goes into today’s round having registered 14 birdies in 36 holes and no drop shots. On Friday he started with six in a row, to go with his finishing two birdies on Thursday, for an eight-in-eight birdie streak.

“To start the day with six birdies was awesome,” he said. “It was a solid round, a fantastic feeling to be leading the tournament. My driver has been really good, that’s been the key for me.”  

Pulkkanen’s fast start set him up for the round, but he said he wasn’t all that surprised when he rolled in the putts. “I birdied five of those holes in the practice round so it was familiar to me,” said the winner of this year’s Kazakhstan Open.

Just a shot back is India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who bettered Pulkkanen’s earlier round late in the day, shooting a quite sensational 10-birdie 61 on the par 71 Bushwillow course – the best of the week.

“It was great. I couldn’t have done better,” said the world number 462. “I pretty much made everything. I hit the ball decently and made a few key up and downs. I’m really glad to be in this position (going into the weekend) ... it is great to have this tri-sanctioned event, for the Asian players to be able to come out here and play.”

The best-placed South African and just two strokes off the lead is last season’s South African PGA champion from Eye of Africa, Erik van Rooyen. After posting an opening round 64 on the Bushwillow course he followed up on Friday with a 67 on the Firethorn course, a round that included six birdies and one bogey.

“It was a great start to get four birdies in a row,” he said. “The weather was perfect in the morning. It was fun to get off to a hot start and I just wanted to keep the pedal down.”

Pulkkanen and Van Rooyen know each other well from their time spent on the Challenge Tour and they’re both excited for the weekend. “We’ve got a nice little rivalry going and I’m happy he’s playing well ... the weekend should be fun,” said Van Rooyen of the Fin.

Added Pulkkanen: “Erik and I have had some good battles on the Challenge tour; I won in Kazakhstan and he won in China, and I’m looking forward to playing against him on the weekend.”

Also at 12-under-par and in third place alongside Van Rooyen, is Pulkkanen’s Finnish mate Mikko Korhonen, who recorded an excellent bogey-free six-under-par 65 on the Bushwillow course that included five birdies in seven holes on the back nine.

Four shots off the pace at 10-under-par are three players, with a further three at nine-under-par. In tied 11th and six shots back are eight players, among them South Africa’s Jaco Ahlers, George Coetzee and MJ Viljoen, all of whom are still very much in the running.

IOL Sport

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