A controversial drop by Dylan Frittelli did the South African little good and helped playing partner Shane Lowry even less as he fell off the pace in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.
Frittelli tugged his third shot into love grass left of the par-five second and facing a near impossible escape, he was given free relief from a tall sprinkler by claiming he was going to take the club outside the line, much to the surprise of on-course commentator, Wayne Riley and his playing partner As Lowry, who walked over to protest,
"I've seen some things in my time but this is not in the spirit of the game," Riley said, as Lowry felt obliged to speak up to protect the field. "I cannot believe this rules official is giving him this drop."
As Frittelli explained why he was claiming relief from the sprinkler, Lowry said: "I know exactly what you are saying but are you telling me you are going to hit it up there at that flag? [pointing to the hole, which was nowhere near the swing path Frittelli's was claiming he was going to hit the ball on). I don't think so. Personally."
Addressing the rules official, Lowry added: "If you're saying that's in his way..... it's your call. But I mean... I don't think that's in his way. But it's up to you."
As Lowry walked way, shaking his head, Frittelli took his free drop, hacked out and went on to make a double bogey seven, quickly followed by three bogeys in his next four holes en route to a 75.
Lowry would go on to make a 35 footer for birdie there to move to five-under, but he didn't make another birdie after that and shot a two-over 74 to finish the day tied for 11th, eight shots behind overnight leader Sergio Garcia on two-under par.
Whether the incident affected him or not is debatable but it brought back memories of a similarly dubious drop awarded to Martin Kaymer in the Volvo Masters a decade ago, which ultimately drove Pádraig Harrington to distraction, arguably costing him the 2007 Order of Merit
Lowry certainly had little luck from the second onwards, shaving the hole with long range birdie putts at the third and fourth before dropping a shot at the fifth, where he was forced to lay up and hit a poor pitch to 20 feet from no more than 40 yards.
He did well to par the eighth with a great two-putt from long range and the ninth, barely clambering over the water after leaving himself a long way back for his third to a tucked flag.
He even did well to get up and down for his par-five at the 10th, where he was in a fairway bunker off the tee and then hit his third over the green.
A bogey at the 11th, where he fluffed a chip, sent his temperature gauge soaring, however, and when he carved his tee shot deep into the jungle at the par-five 14th and bogeyed again, it was clear it wasn’t going to be his day.
A closing birdie at the 18th might have ease the pain but he pushed a six footer putt just wide and offered perfunctory handshake to Frittelli before walking off with a frown.
A sub-70 final round will be needed now if he's to make major inroads in the Race to Dubai standings — he's forecast to move up just one spot to 40th heading to Dubai, where he was second to Jon Rahmn last year.
As for Rory McIlroy, his faint hopes of winning the Race to Dubai for the fourth time ended with a one-over 73 that confirmed that he’s got issues to resolve with his swing.
The misses to the right that plagued him on the first two days continued as he bogeyed the first, second and seventh after misses right before picking up shots at the par-five ninth and 14th coming home.
Tied for 20th on level par, McIlroy would need one of the rounds of the season to finish in the top-two now and whatever about Dubai, he does not look to have enough time to turn things around before he tees it up with Oliver Fisher and Martin Kaymer on Sunday.
Pádraig Harrington's hopes of moving from 88th into the top 60 who qualify for the DP World Tour Championship also appear to be over after he slipped eight shots outside the top-seven on four-over after a 74.
As for Paul Dunne, he finished with an eagle three at the ninth to post a level par 72 and share 53rd on five-over par but appears safe now for Dubai, albeit projected to fall three spots to 56th in the Race to Dubai.
The title race appears to be a six-man affair with Garcia two shots in front of South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen on 10-under par after he fired a 71 on day three.
The Spaniard is seeking a wire-to-wire victory in the seventh Rolex Series event of the season but having led by four after round one, and by just one from Oosthuizen after 36 holes, he has little margin for error at Gary Player Country Club.
He's looking to make it back-to-back wins after triumphing at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by his own foundation but with Oosthuizen carding a 72 to sit in second and with Belgium's Thomas Detry (68), England’s Lee Westwood (69) and Finn Mikko Korhonen (71) just three behind on seven-under, the title is far from secure.
Garcia has won nine times from 14 attempts when holding the 54-hole lead on the European Tour — 13 from 26 worldwide.
A victory would be Garcia's second wire-to-wire win in the last two seasons and his third triumph at Gary Player Country Club after winning this event in 2001 and 2003 before it joined the European Tour International Schedule.
Englishman in Ross Fisher is just four behind on six-under after a 67 having mounted a remarkable comeback after dropping eight shots in his last four holes on Friday.
Local favourite Darren Fichardt carded a 67 to sit at four under, a shot clear of fellow South African Dean Burmester and French duo Benjamin Hebert and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
In the quest to stay in the hunt for the Race to Dubai next week, Li Haotong and Lucas Bjerregaard both need a win but were ten and 14 shots back respectively,
“I thought it was pretty good. The course is playing tough. It's playing difficult, but I felt like probably I didn't get much out of my round. I felt like I was quite consistent.
“Maybe I could have been a little bit more aggressive hitting a couple shots here and there, but I gave myself a good amount of chances. Unfortunately, the putts didn't want to drop but at the end of the day, shooting under par, still, in the lead, I'm happy with that.
“I'm just going to keep trying to do the same thing. I know the course is going to be playing tough again. I'm going to go out and try to shoot under par like I've done all three days. I think if I can manage to shoot somewhere in the 60s, maybe 70 might be enough.
“It would be great. Winning any tournament, it's always amazing, but winning here, a Rolex Series Event, obviously extra special. It would be really nice, and you know, we're going to try to do that.”
“It was tough for me. Didn't play well. Didn't hit many good shots, really. So I realised early on that it was a round I needed to keep together and not really blow myself out of the tournament. I hung in there nicely. A little bit of a stupid error on 14, but other than that, the way I was playing today, I'm very happy to be two behind.
“I enjoy playing with the leader. It's what we play for to be in that spot, playing the last group on a Sunday. I just need to go out and fire at pins and hopefully have a good round.
“I think it requires hitting it straight, and I think it requires a lot of patience because the breeze is changing, and you do get some strange things happening out there because of where it is.
“I've always enjoyed putting on these greens. A lot of imagination on them. Sometimes you get some big breaking putts. It reminds me in a little way of Augusta the way you have to tackle it. You have to play away from pins, and sometimes you have putts that you don't want or leave in a spot where you can't get it up-and-down.
“I'm always excited when I'm in contention. It's always lovely being in the last couple of groups in this tournament, the crowds are always very enthusiastic and given me a lot of support.”
“I mean, it's so hard out here, and I almost lost my head out there after bogeying pretty much the easiest hole on the golf course. Patience paid off. I was very pleased. I made three good putts, and very pleased to finish with an amazing four on the last hole.
“These are the biggest events at the end of the year, so it's great to be able to play some of my best golf out here and still feel like that I have some left in the tank, so I'm very excited for the next few weeks and for tomorrow.
“Pretty solid I think. Hit it pretty well off the tee. Didn't miss many greens, and when I missed, I missed the right place. A couple of bad ones on the front nine, as well, like yesterday, but I did pretty good.
“Very excited. Hope to put together another solid round and see how I end up.”
Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, Gary Player Country Club, Sun City (Par 72)
206 S Garcia (Esp) 64 71 71,
208 L Oosthuizen (RSA) 69 67 72,
209 T Detry (Bel) 75 66 68, L Westwood (Eng) 71 69 69, M Korhonen (Fin) 68 70 71,
210 R Fisher (Eng) 71 72 67,
212 D Fichardt (RSA) 74 67 71,
213 D Burmester (RSA) 72 71 70, B Hebert (Fra) 69 75 69, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 68 73 72,
214 Shane Lowry (Irl) 71 69 74, N Colsaerts (Bel) 75 69 70, M Wallace (Eng) 69 72 73,
215 B Grace (RSA) 70 71 74, A Johnston (Eng) 73 69 73, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 71 71 73, A Rai (Eng) 72 68 75, J Scrivener (Aus) 69 76 70, D Frittelli (RSA) 73 67 75,
216 A Pavan (Ita) 71 70 75, R Sterne (RSA) 77 69 70, M Kaymer (Ger) 76 69 71, Rory McIlroy (Nir) 72 71 73, A Wu (Chn) 69 73 74, C Schwartzel (RSA) 68 78 70, O Fisher (Eng) 75 70 71, H Li (Chn) 71 70 75,
217 C Paisley (Eng) 72 75 70, J Lagergren (Swe) 72 74 71, J Luiten (Ned) 72 75 70, A Sullivan (Eng) 69 74 74, A Otaegui (Esp) 74 72 71, R Fox (Nzl) 70 73 74,
218 T Immelman (RSA) 74 73 71, R Paratore (Ita) 72 71 75, P Larrazábal (Esp) 74 70 74,
219 R Rock (Eng) 75 73 71, W Ormsby (Aus) 73 74 72, J Dantorp (Swe) 77 73 69, J Guerrier (Fra) 74 68 77, E Van Rooyen (RSA) 77 69 73, S Horsfield (Eng) 73 72 74, M Schwab (Aut) 72 71 76,
220 S Sharma (Ind) 74 75 71, J Campillo (Esp) 71 78 71, Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 73 73 74, L Herbert (Aus) 76 69 75, P Waring (Eng) 72 76 72, G Coetzee (RSA) 73 79 68, L Bjerregaard (Den) 75 70 75, B Stone (RSA) 74 71 75, J Smith (Eng) 79 69 72,
221 Paul Dunne (Irl) 78 71 72, L Slattery (Eng) 74 73 74, D Willett (Eng) 78 71 72,
222 M Kieffer (Ger) 75 71 76, S Gallacher (Sco) 77 75 70, T Aiken (RSA) 76 77 69, N Elvira (Esp) 74 73 75, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 75 74 73, H Tanihara (Jpn) 74 79 69,
223 G Green (Mas) 75 70 78, R McEvoy (Eng) 72 76 75, M Pavon (Fra) 78 73 72, A Björk (Swe) 75 75 73,
224 T Pulkkanen (Fin) 71 76 77, T Bjørn (Den) 76 73 75, T Lewis (Eng) 75 71 78, M Southgate (Eng) 80 73 71,
229 A Chesters (Eng) 78 73 78,
231 M Kinhult (Swe) 74 74 83,
RT A Levy (Fra) 81 70 RT