SA Stroke Play title not cast in Stone
For two days he topped the leaderboard and when Brandon Stone teed off in the third round at Glendower Golf Club this morning, he looked for all the money in the world to be the man to beat. But Stone set up an intriguing final day shootout at the South African Stroke Play Championship when he squandered a five shot lead on Thursday.
A mid-round wobble resulted in a four shot swing that not only nearly derailed Stone’s title charge, but opened the door for Italy’s Andrea Bolognesi to hit the front and South Africa’s number two, Haydn Porteous, to follow suit.
However, the country’s leading amateur underlined growing stature when he hung on for a three-over-par 75. His share of third on seven-under-par 209 will see him line up alongside Soweto Country Club’s Musi Nethunzi, Toby Tree from England and countryman Desne van den Bergh, who shot 68, 69 and 70 respectively.
As far as Stone is concerned, he is just two shots off the pace from Bolognesi, who surged to the lead with a 68 and is one behind Porteous, who turned in a 69.
“My campaign took a knock today, but the championship is still very much on,” he said. “There is still 18 holes to play.
“Maybe it was the 90 minute delay this morning, maybe it was just my turn, but my luck definitely took the day off. It was a very frustrating day, especially because I was looking to post another good score after the 66 and 68. But that’s exactly how golf goes. Of course I’m disgusted with the round, but rounds like these you just have to write off to experience.
“What’s done is done, you can’t change a thing, so look ahead and change what you can.”
Birdies at two and five took Stone to 12 under, but an unlucky lie after a decent tee shot at the eighth was the start of his woes. “I had to hit my second from an awkward stance with both feet in the fairway bunker and the ball level with my knees,” said Stone, who had to execute a baseball style shot to get 60 meters down the fairway.
“My approach caught the greenside trap and I had a plugged lie. I scooped it out to 10-feet and two-putted for bogey.”
Perhaps trying to put the drop behind him or still fuming about a bogey at a “birdie hole”, Stone’s tee shot at nine went left into the trees.
“My second clipped a tree and ricochet into the water hazard, short right of the green. I had to take a drop and then the approach shot took one bounce on the green, hit the pin and spun back into the hazard.”
Stone dropped from the same spot but this time hit it to three feet and sank the putt for a triple bogey.
“I birdied 11, dropped another one at the 12th, but I really just couldn’t get anything going on the back nine. I threw everything I had out there into my game, I stayed positive, but it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Meanwhile Bolognesi did catch a break from Stone’s mid-round meltdown, but the Italian put in some hard work of his own, especially over the front nine.
After birdies at the second and fifth, the 20-year-old from Cervia near Bologna hit the front with a brace of birdies before the turn and nullified a drop at the 10th with a birdie at the 15th to finish with a four-under-par 68.
“It was a great round for me today, especially over the first nine holes,” he said. “I struggled a little to find birdies on the back nine, but tee to green, I played very well.
“I’m looking forward to the final round. The leaderboard is quite exciting and it is going to be a dog fight until the end, I think. Hopefully, I will be the top dog.”
Porteous birdied eight and nine for an outward loop of 34. He birdied 12 but gave one back at the 13th for a third successive day. He then retaliated at the par-five 15th for a last birdie to slip into second on the leaderboard. “The leaderboard is very tight and there are at least 10 players that can still challenge for the title” the 17-year-old said.
“I hope, coming down the 18th, I’m the one with the one shot lead.”
Nenthunzi forced his way into the final group with a flawless 68 which could have been better.
“I hit every green in regulation and the putter worked well, too, “ said the Gary Player School of Champions student. “I left two birdies out there at the closing holes, though. I lipped out for a five-footer at 17 and left one in the jaws at 18. It was one of my best rounds of late and hopefully I will bring that same game on Friday.”