There have been only three foreign winners in the 11-year history of the Joburg Open, but that could become four later this afternoon because only something special from a South African player will prevent India’s Shubhankar Sharma from winning the 2018 edition at the Randpark Golf Club.
Sharma followed up his scintillating 61 on Friday with a 65 on Saturday to take a five shot lead into the final round on Sunday. He is at 20-under-par after his first three rounds and for the second day running produced a flawless round of golf that included seven birdies and no bogeys, following his 10-birdie blitz on the Bushwillow course on Friday.
This is Sharma’s first visit to South Africa and he looks to be the hot favourite to go all the way in the R16.5-million tri-sanctioned event; a win that would be a first for the 21-year-old.
“I’m really happy,” said Sharma, who is hoping to emulate Ariel Canete (2007), Anders Hansen (2009) and Andy Sullivan (2015) as the only visitors to South Africa to win the tournament.
“It is always difficult to follow up a low round the next day so I’m proud and happy with the way I played.
“I got off to a fast start and that’s important for the rest of the round. My putting has been very good and I hope it continues.”
He added he was enjoying his first visit to the country. “I had my visa all ready to come here but after a long season I wasn’t sure ... but now I am pleased I came here to the Joburg Open. I just have to stay calm and play my shots. Anyone can go low, as we’ve seen, so I’ll stay aggressive and go for it.”
The biggest mover on the day - and the most likely challenger to Sharma – was Sweden’s Christofer Blomstrand, who produced a quite sensational 10-under-par 62 on Saturday that included eight birdies, two eagles and two bogeys. He’s five back of the lead at 15-under-par.
“It’s a really nice birthday present,” said the man from Hoor who turned 26 on Saturday.
“I was happy with my putter, it worked well for me today. I hit come great shots and then holing the putts was key. I’m looking forward to the final round, it should be fun ... that’s why we play golf,” added Blomstrand who won the 2016 Zambia Sugar Open in Zambia.
Six strokes back, at 14-under-par are two players, South African hope Erik van Rooyen and one of the bigger movers of the day, England’s James Morrison.
Van Rooyen though was unable to catch fire and followed up his second round 67 with a stop-start two-under 70 on Saturday – just four birdies and two bogeys. He will hope to produce something special on Sunday as he seeks to add to the PGA title he won at Eye of Africa last year.
Morrison however made a big move, shooting a five-under 67, but he is still six shots back.
“It was hot today, different to the other days,” said the Englishman. “The wind was also blowing in different directions, which made it more challenging. I can’t wait for tomorrow ... I’ve been in this position before, so many times, and will have to draw on all my experience, the losses and the wins.”
The leader after the second round, Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen was also unable to reproduce the heroics of his second round when he shot a 64 to lead by one overnight. On Saturday he battled through his round, making just three birdies, two bogeys and a double-bogey at the par-4 16th, for a one-over 73 round. He is seven shots off the pace.
It’s all set up for a thrilling 2018 edition of the Joburg Open, but will anyone be able to stop India’s steam train, Sharma?