JOHANNESBURG - For the first three rounds the weather gods pretty much played along, but that was not the case on Sunday - and the final round of the 2018 edition of the Joburg Open will only be completed on Monday morning.
It’s a tournament that’s been plagued by bad weather over the years and last season when Darren Fichardt triumphed at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington it was reduced to three rounds because of lightning and a water-logged course.
And it was the same story Sunday, only this time it was Randpark that took a beating from the weather gods. First there was lightning, then hail, then a downpour and then lightning again and more rain.
When play for the day was finally called off at 5.30pm - a whole four-and-a-half hours since the suspension at 1pm - India’s Shubhakar Sharma was still in pole position to win his first major trophy and only something special from another player will prevent him from doing that this morning when the final round resumes at 7.30am.
The 21-year-old held a four-shot lead after playing seven holes on Sunday and looked comfortable as he made his way round the Firethorn layout. He’d made two birdies to move from his overnight score of 20-under-par to 22-under.
Four shots back after completing eight holes, and his nearest challenger, was South African Erik van Rooyen, who was doing his best to try catch the Indian youngster. Four birdies in his first eight holes saw him move from his overnight 14-under-par to 18-under.
Sweden’s Christofer Blomstrand, who celebrated his 26th birthday in style on Saturday with a sizzling 62 and who was five shots off the pace set by Sharma, battled to keep up with the Indian and Van Rooyen, who won the South African PGA title last season. Two bogeys in his seven completed holes left him at 13-under-par and nine shots back.
Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen and England’s James Morrison were both at 14-under-par with more than nine holes to play in their rounds and didn’t appear as if they were going to challenge Sharma.
Three Open Championship spots, for next year’s tournament to be played at Carnoustie, are up for grabs this week, meaning every drive, approach and putt will be crucial for the chasing pack, as Sharma and Van Rooyen look to have sewn up two of those three places.
Sharma is looking to become just the fourth non South African to win the 11-year-old Joburg Open, after Argentina’s Ariel Canete (2007), Denmark’s Anders Hansen (2009) and England’s Andy Sullivan (2015).