JOHANNESBURG – Brandon Stone leads the South African contingent in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland on seven-under-par 209 following a 71 at Kingsbarns on Saturday, to follow a 71 at St Andrews and a 67 at Carnoustie.
But he is a full 11 shots adrift of England's runaway leader Tyrrell Hatton who is in front by five and is well-placed to become the first player in the event's 17-year history to defend his title, following his victory by four here over compatriot Ross Fisher and South Africa's Richard Sterne 12 months ago.
The 25-year-old Hatton has had his ups and downs this year - he missed the cut in all four Majors and at one stage missed six cuts in seven starts - which might explain some bad-tempered behaviour on his part at times. But in his last two outings on the European Tour he has tied third and tied eighth.
Now, going into Sunday's final round on the Old Course at St Andrews he is on 18-under-par 198 following a 65 at Kingsbarns, and five adrift of nearest challenger Gregory Bourdy of France. He has played some wonderful golf in this celebration of links golf both in 2016 and this year, and has dropped just five shots in his last 115 holes in the event.
Hatton was on his best behaviour Saturday, but he can reportedly be awfully temperamental and has been known to bash a club into the turf in anger, and whinge, and as a result he's been the subject of a good deal of criticism. After the British Masters last week, fellow England professional Gary Evans was so incensed by Hatton's conduct that he went on social media to scold the world No 29. "You're a great talent with potential but you need to grow up, mate. Your on-course whinging and body language is a disgrace.”
Hatton responded like this: "I'm passionate and try my best to win and occasionally that spills over. I'm just human and am going to make mistakes from time to time. Nobody's perfect. I've been pretty calm this week and to win once at the Home of Golf is amazing, but if I can do it again tomorrow it will be incredible and a dream come true.”
And some trivia: Hatton's partner for the pro-am, which is separate from the $5-million main event purely for the professionals, is Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan who is a 14-handicap but can really belt the ball when he catches it cleanly. At the par five 12th he hit the green in two thanks to a huge drive, followed by an eight-iron so he was putting for eagle. But then things turned Fifty Shades Darker as he three-putted from, rather appropriately, about fifty feet. Still, he too was revelling in the day, as adoring Scottish lasses took snapshots of him with their cellphones.
Besides Stone on 209, Haydn Porteous on 210 (after a fine 65 at St Andrews), Jaco Ahlers (210), Dylan Frittelli (211), Branden Grace (211), Darren Fichardt (211), George Coetzee (211), Anthony Michael (212), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (212), Richard Sterne (212) and Ulrich van den Berg (212) all made the 54-hole cut, which came at four-under 212.
Rory McIlroy, at one under with seven holes left of his third round at Kingsbarns, looked in danger of missing out but he then birdied four holes in a row to move to minus-5 only to bogey the ninth to squeeze home on the button at 212. Ernie Els, however, did miss out.