Brandon Stone admits he got lucky with his approach shot on 18, but he considered it payback for all the lip-outs he had this week as he carded a six-under-par 66 on Saturday to take a three-stroke lead in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
He hit his approach to the island green on 18 long, low and left, and it caught the tree above the bunker there, and dropped safe and sound just over the green. He salvaged par, as he had done on a number of occasions during the round, and held on to his lead over four-time Leopard Creek champion Charl Schwartzel, a charging Keith Horne and England’s Chris Hanson.
“I got a really lucky break on the last,” he laughed, “but all those missed putts for the last three days just got cashed in right there.”
And, despite the slice of luck, and perhaps even some missed putts, his putting under pressure was superb. “Sometimes, the putts you make for par are almost more important than the birdies,” he said.
He made a particularly good one on 16, when he watched Schwartzel’s tee shot ricochet off the retaining wall in front of the green on the par-three hole and into the water. “I over-clubbed after I saw that,” he said, “and I had no chance of chipping straight at the pin. So I just had to get it close enough so I had a chance, and it felt really great when it went in.”
He reached the turn in four-under 31 as he watched Schwartzel struggle to get his round going, and that gave him some daylight between himself and the man who seems impossible to beat at Leopard Creek. “I got off to a good start – anytime you hit your approach to a foot is a good start – and got a few birdies early on, which got the round going,” he said.
“I played some good golf the whole day, holed some good putts, hit some good shots. I tried to give myself a lot of opportunities. I hit some really good shots, I must say, and there was some ball-striking out there between Charl and myself that was quite impressive, even if I say so myself.”
Schwartzel showed his mettle after the turn as he set off after Stone who looked as if he could run away with the tournament. “I started hitting some fairways and consequently I was giving myself more birdie chances,” said Schwartzel.
A run of five birdies in six holes was brought to a halt by Schwartzel’s bogey on 16, but it made very clear the level of the challenge Stone can expect when he goes into the final round to try and win the title.
“You know, final rounds are a different kettle of fish,” said Schwarztel. “It really is time to get stuck in there and really grind it out. Brandon’s playing beautiful golf, so I know I’m going to have to bring some good stuff tomorrow.”