Fleetwood takes one-shot lead in Durban
Harrington and Clarke best of the Irish on four under, six adrift over young Englishman
Tommy Fleetwood of England leads by one in Durban. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
England’s Tommy Fleetwood will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Volvo Golf Champions on Sunday as he seeks the first of three wins he believes are necessary to make the Ryder Cup team.
Fleetwood claimed his maiden European Tour title at Ryder Cup venue Gleneagles last year, albeit four days before the qualifying race for September’s contest got under way.
The 22-year-old was therefore quick to point out that France’s Victor Dubuisson and Holland’s Joost Luiten - his nearest challengers at Durban Country Club - are better placed to make Paul McGinley’s side, but he knows an “exceptional” year can still secure a cup debut.
“They are a lot closer than me,” said Fleetwood after a third round of 69 saw him reach 10 under par, one ahead of Dubuisson and Luiten, who shot 69 and 70 respectively.
“The Ryder Cup has not come into my mind at all while I have been playing. I would like to win tournaments and the Ryder Cup is something that will happen if I have an exceptional year.
“I probably have to win three times to get in the team and it would be awesome to win tomorrow. It’s the best feeling ever when you win, it gives you so much joy.”
Fleetwood was the youngest ever winner of the second-tier Challenge Tour in 2011, but only kept his card at the end of his rookie season on the European Tour thanks to a first top-10 finish of the year in the final event, coincidentally in South Africa.
Victory at Gleneagles helped him finish 26th on the Race to Dubai last year, the win coming with a birdie on the first of a play-off on the Centenary Course with Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez and Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher.
“I learned from that that I can win, which is huge at this level,” Fleetwood added. “Thinking you can win and knowing you can are miles apart.”
Dubuisson is third on the European Ryder Cup points list and would be within sight of securing his place on the team with victory and the first prize of €507,000 on Sunday.
The 23-year-old, who played against Fleetwood several times in amateur golf, said: “I’ve never hit the ball so badly but my short game saved me today. I could have been three or four over.
“I was a little tired this morning, I didn’t sleep well, and I missed a lot of shots. The win (at the Turkish Airlines Open) gave me a lot of confidence, but you can still have bad rounds.”
Pádraig Harrington (70) and Darren Clarke (72) are best of the Irish on four under. Michael Hoey dropped back to two over with a 73 but Simon Thornton had a disastrous round of 80 that saw him plummet from two under to six over.
Defending champion and local favourite Louis Oosthuizen had been leading with three holes to play but ran up a triple-bogey seven on the 16th after hitting his second shot into thick undergrowth and having to declare it unplayable.
“It’s frustrating that I finally got my seven birdies, which you need to do around this course, but made too many bogeys,” the 2010 Open champion said.
“I was not great off the tee and hit a few wayward shots but I’m still happy to be right in there. You don’t want to give yourself unnecessary work and I had the chance to get to 12 under today, so I need to be more focused tomorrow.”
Fellow South African Branden Grace is a shot behind Oosthuizen on seven under, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson - defending champion in Abu Dhabi next week - another stroke back alongside France’s Raphael Jacquelin.
England’s Paul Casey shot the lowest round of the week so far to lie four under, giving the 36-year-old another reason to be cheerful after learning earlier this week that his American coach Peter Kostis had been given the all-clear following his battle with cancer.
After receiving some advice from Kostis following a second round of 75, Casey improved by 10 shots on Saturday to boost his chances of climbing into the world’s top 64 in time for the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in February.
“I’m really pleased with that because I struggled yesterday and sent a panic text to Peter,” Casey said. “He hadn’t seen me on television because I was playing so badly I wouldn’t have been on the coverage, but he said I always get too quick in the wind so slow it down.
“That obviously worked and I struck it beautifully today and holed a few good putts to keep the round going. After being three over for two holes on Thursday you wonder how bad it could get over 72 holes, but thankfully I’ve got it back into the red.”