Gleeson moves up with super 64 as Saulez chases Gillberg in South Africa
Ireland's Alex Gleeson (Castle) watches the flight of his ball in the South African Stroke Play Championship at Pecanwood Golf and Country Club. Credit: Ernest Blignault

Ireland's Alex Gleeson (Castle) watches the flight of his ball in the South African Stroke Play Championship at Pecanwood Golf and Country Club. Credit: Ernest Blignault

Castle's Alex Gleeson made eight birdies in an immaculate 64 to move up to tied seventh with a round to play in the South African Stroke Play Championship.

As Tramore's Robin Dawson was frustrated in the greens and shot 71 to share 11th on 12-under, Gleeson's eight-under effort at Pecanwood Country Club still left him ten strokes behind Sweden's Oliver Gillberg, who also shot 64 to lead by two shots on 23-under 193.

There was little luck for the other Irish with Kilkenny's Mark Power (72) tied 36th in 209, Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty (70) 47th on 211 and Naas’ Jonathan Yates (73) 52nd on three under 213.

But Irish skipper John Carroll is encouraged by the golf he has seen so far on the two-week tour which will conclude after next week's South African Amateur Championship at Glendower Golf Club in  Edenvale.

"Alex was outstanding today and played super golf," he said. "Robin played great golf tee to green and couldn't buy a putt and he was very disappointed having played so well. 

"Caolan started with a double and did well to finish at two under on a day when Jonathan and Mark were steady but nothing much happened for them."

Sam Locke. Credit: Ernest Blignault

Sam Locke. Credit: Ernest Blignault

Gleeson birdied the fourth, fifth and six to go out in 32, then followed birdie fours at the 10th and 12th with the two more at the 16th and 17th for another 32 on the back nine as Dawson mixed five birdies with four bogeys. 

Writing from South Africa for GolfRSA, Lali Stander reported:

Oliver Gillberg lived up to his star billing when he fired seven birdies over the last nine holes at Pecanwood Golf and Country Club to top the third round leaderboard of the South African Stroke Play Championship on Thursday.

The world number 10 ranked opened his campaign in North West Province with a solid five-under 67, and shot to the top of the pile with a 62 in the second round. 

The back nine of 29 strokes for a 64 helped Gillberg to shake joint overnight leader Wilco Nienaber and take the 54-hole lead at 23-under-par 193.

GolfRSA National Squad player Matt Saulez was two behind Gillberg and Nienaber at the start of the round and stayed in touch with half-a-dozen birdies.

For most of the round he watched the dogfight from the sidelines, but the KwaZulu-Natal golfer hit the gas pedal over the closing holes, He reeled three successive birdies to match Gillberg’s score and moved to sole second on 21-under.

Nienaber – chasing his 12th victory in as many months – drives it a land-mile, but the 17-year-old struggled with his wedges. A battling four-under 68 will see the South African number two head into the final round four off the pace.

Gillberg kicked off his run on the back nine with four birdies on the trot from 10.

“The front nine was quiet; I only made two birdies and I bogeyed the eighth, so I needed something to happen,” he said. “I had a two-putt birdie at 10. At 11, I hit a gap-wedge to three metres and a good bunker shot at 12 to three and a half metres. And another short putt at 13 took me to 20-under.”

He followed a par at 14 with a trio of gains from 15.

Riding a wave of confidence and momentum from racking up 23 birdies and an eagle over 54 holes, it’s hard to imagine that anyone can stop Gilberg’s march to victory. But the Karsta golfer disagrees.

Matt Saulez. Credit: Ernest Blignault

Matt Saulez. Credit: Ernest Blignault

“I played really great golf, but anyone who keeps it in the fairway and putts well in the last round, can still take the trophy,” he said.

“Nothing is certain. That’s why I don’t get ahead of myself. Today was a good day. Tomorrow is in the future.”

Saulez maintained the form that saw him qualify for the BMW SA Open in January and make the cut in the co-sanctioned championship at Glendower, and the Durban Country Club golfer is looking forward to another highly-contested round with Gillberg and Nienaber on Friday.

“I’ve always been a good ball-striker, but I believe it’s my short game and putting that’s brought me into the mix,” he said. “I made some really solid birdies coming down the stretch. It’s going to fun to play with those guys again because we really push each other.”

Nienaber is the type who looks for silver linings whenever dark clouds form overhead. “I’m really happy with the way I drove the ball, but my wedge play was inconsistent, and the putter was lukewarm,” said the GolfRSA National Squad player from Bloemfontein.

“But that’s golf, though. You have days like that where you just have to stay patient and keep a lid on your frustrations. I got through it, and there are still 18 holes to play.”

Behind the top three, there was a lot of jostling for position as players vied to close the gap on the frontrunners.

James du Preez finished in fourth at 15-under, one shot clear of Scotland’s Sam Locke and local favourite Louis Albertse. Du Preez returned a 68, while Locke fired a 65 and the Rustenburg golfer signed for 69.

Sweden’s Ludwig Aberg, Alex Gleeson from Ireland and South African pair Christiaan Burke and Cameron Moralee close out the top 10 at 13-under. Gleeson and Moralee both registered 64s, Aberg carded 70 and Burke from Potchefstroom posted a 67.

South African Stroke Play Championship, Pecanwood Golf and CC (Par 72, RSA unless stated)

Detailed scores

193 Oliver Gillberg SWE 67 62 64

195 Matt Saulez 67 64 64

197 Wilco Nienaber 65 64 68

201 James du Preez 65 68 68

202 Sam Locke SCO 69 68 65; Louis Albertse 66 67 69

203 Cameron Moralee 74 65 64; Alex Gleeson IRL 72 67 64; Christiaan Burke 70 66 67; Ludwig Aberg SWE 65 68 70

204 Frédéric LaCroix FRA 71 69 64; David Nyfjall SWE 70 69 65; Jayden Schaper 69 70 65; Dylan Kok 69 69 66; Robin Dawson IRL 68 65 71

205 Yashas Chandra IND 72 65 68; Yurav Premlall 69 69 67; Martin Vorster 68 70 67; Edgar Catherine FRA 67 70 68; Gustav Andersson SWE 67 70 68; Calum Fyfe SCO 67 67 71

206 Neal Woernhard SUI 72 70 64; Victor Veyret FRA 71 70 65; Luca Filippi 71 68 67; David Mcintyre 69 68 69; Keaton Slatter 64 68 74

207 Ruhan van Dijk 69 70 68; Erhard Lambrechts 69 67 71; Stals Swart 67 72 68

208 Nicholaus Frade 74 66 68; Andre van Heerden (Jnr) 70 71 67; Jordan Burnand 70 69 69; Euan Walker GBR 70 64 74; Otto van Buynder 69 72 67; Darren Howie SCO 69 69 70

209 Hayden Griffiths 71 69 69; Charles Larcelet FRA 70 70 69; Clayton Mansfield 70 67 72; Mark Power IRL 70 67 72; Loris Schuepbach SUI 68 72 69; Pierre Pineau FRA 68 70 71; Ruan Botha 67 71 71; Ryan van Velzen 66 69 74

210 Carlos Laranja 72 70 68; Malcolm Mitchell 70 69 71; Theunie Bezuidenhout 67 72 71

211 Caolan Rafferty IRL 70 71 70; David Langley GBR 70 71 70; Clément Charmasson FRA 69 69 73; Keegan Mclachlan 68 73 70

212 Jack Gaunt ENG 71 71 70

213 Jonathan Yates IRL 71 69 73; Nikhil Gopal 70 70 73; Nicola Gerhardsen 67 75 71

214 Loic Ettlin SUI 72 69 73; Deon Germishuys 71 68 75; Jan-louis Nel 68 73 73; Christian Basson 65 77 72

215 Alan Lones 74 68 73; Oliver Goldhill 69 73 73

216 Keelan van Wyk 72 69 75; Cole Stevens 69 71 76; Jeremy Freiburghaus SUI 68 73 75

217 Matthew Hands 68 72 77

218 Keanu Pestana 74 65 79