Keeping his head down. Damien McGrane hits an iron shot during the third round of the Joburg Open. Photo by Carl Fourie/www.golffile.ieDamien McGrane kissed his hopes of victory goodbye and slipped deep into the pack before play was suspended in the third round of €1.3m Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

As Peter Lawrie and defending champion Charl Schwartzel missed the four-under par cut by a shot with Simon Thornton four shots outside the mark on level par, McGrane birdied three of his last six holes to shoot a second round 71 on the East Course and go into the third round just two shots off the lead.

But the 40-year old Kells player, who has started his season earlier than ever following after a forgettable 2011 campaign, went into reverse gear in the afternoon in the weather-affected event, his second of the year following a missed cut in last week’s Africa Open.

Despite a birdie four on the East Course’s opening hole, the 2008 Volvo China Open winner bogeyed the fourth, fifth and 14th before running up a morale-shattering double bogey six at the 15th to fall back to five-under for the tournament.

Two pars followed but he was unable to complete the 18th and finished his day tied for 42nd and 10 shots behind co-leaders Branden Grace of South Africa (15 holes) and former Irish Open champion Richard Finch (14 holes).

It was a bitterly disappointing day for the affable Meath man, who had shown signs of a welcome return to form on Thursday when he blasted an eight under par 63 to grab a share of the first round lead.

While McGrane was toiling in tough conditions, Dawie van der Walt beat the rain and darkness to post a five-under-par 67 for the clubhouse lead at 12-under par 203 before being joined at the top by Canada’s Andrew Parr, who hit eight birdies in an immaculate 64.

According to the Sunshine Tour:

Grace had just knocked in three birdies in a row to move into a share of the lead with Finch, who had turned his third-round fortunes around with a chip-in for eagle from a greenside bunker on eight, having slipped up with bogeys on four and seven. Grace was on five-under for his round and playing the 16th when play was called off for the day, and Finch was playing 15 at four-under.

And one behind them was George Coetzee on 14-under, playing the 15th in a round that was filled with well-made pars and just three birdies – just what he said he wanted ahead of the start of the third round. Jbe’ Kruger was on 12-under with Van der Walt and Parr, and he was on the 16th.

In the final group still out on the course was England’s Robert Rock, who was battling to keep his round on track after making bogey on the 10th, his second of the day. He was level-par through 14 and on 11-under for the tournament – together with Danny Willett who had completed his round, and Michiel Bothma who was on the 17th.

“I don’t know how much tougher this course can play,” said Van der Walt as he looked back on his round. “I thought they used all the really hard flags for the third round. We’ll see what they’ve got for us tomorrow.”