ZANDER Lombard continued his recent run of fine form to take a two shot-lead into the weekend at South Africa’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The South African, who topped last season’s Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, carded a round of 65 to get to 11-under par.
Lombard, who came closest to his breakthrough win losing a play-off in the Rocca Forte Open, in Sicily two years ago, said: “Playing with two legends of the game, it was nervy.
“But I settled down quickly with a birdie on the second and it was just all really good vibes from there. I played really well.
“The crowds were at their max and all into it. They were cheering and they were fantastic,” said Lombard, who did win the European Tour Qualifying School, at Lumine, in Spain, a year ago today.
“They were cheering for Ernie and Lee at the start, but I won them over at the end, so it was awesome.
Lombard, who lost in the final of the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, in 2015, is aware of the life-changing sums on offer to the winner at Sun City’s Gary Player Country Club.
“It’s a huge opportunity, and just need to keep myself calm and do the same on the weekend,” said 24-year-old Zander, who has won €1.2million in 95 European Tour events so far in his career.
“I’ve got a great team behind me and the processes are in place. I’m going to stick to my processes.
“It sounds cliché, but it’s as simple as that and we’ll see where it puts me at the end of the week,” said Lombard, who did win one of the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins Pro-Ams in 2018.
Compatriot Louis Oosthuizen – the 2010 Open Champion – got to nine-under, alongside Belgian Thomas Detry to trail Lombard in the seventh Rolex Series tournament of the season – the penultimate event of the 2019 Race to Dubai.
All three were in a tie for the lead after Lombard – who was playing alongside defending champion Lee Westwood and South African legend Ernie Els – went eagle-birdie after the turn.
But the 2014 Amateur Championship finalist’s rivals started heading in the wrong direction as he hit the front.
Overnight leader Oosthuizen – who was unsure if he would tee off on Thursday after suffering from kidney stones in the 24 hours before he was due to start – dropped shots on the 14th and 15th.
Oosthuizen, who had been in hospital seeking treatment on Wednesday, said: “I was fine starting. The last six holes got me a bit.
“The tee shot on 14 – I felt it in the right lower with the pain. I think the next two holes, I was thinking of that and didn’t really focus on what I had to do.
“Then on 16 again, I got my focus back and played nicely coming in. Pretty fatigued. Just need to rest for tomorrow.”
Meanwhile Detry double-bogeyed the 17th after finding water from the tee and missing it with his third by the width of a post.
“It’s a tough course, anything can happen. Played some really good golf. On 17, it could have been a high number there.”
The Belgian, who is looking for his first European Tour victory in an event with a $2.5million winner’s prize, dropped another shot on the last.
“I limited the damage with a double-bogey and got a bit unlucky on 18,” said Detry.
“I hit a great drive, 300 metres down the middle. But it’s golf and just move on and see tomorrow.
“The putter seems to be working. Whole swing seems to be working as well,” added Detry, who has trod a similar path to Thomas Pieters after going to the same American University before turning pro.
Detry said: “Anything can happen on the weekend. A few guys are ahead of me, a few guys behind me. I think it’s going to be a fun battle.”
The 2017 Race to Dubai Champion Tommy Fleetwood and Swede Marcus Kinhult are in a share of fourth place at six-under par.
Fleetwood, who has not won since Abu Dhabi in January 2018, said: “It’s a tough golf course, and you’re always not that bad of a golf shot away from being stuck in trouble.
“You’ve just got to stay on it,” said the hero of Europe’s Ryder Cup win over the USA at Le Paris National in September 2018.
“Generally I feel like I can do well. I love this place. I love the week. I think it’s got a great atmosphere to it.
“I like teeing off on this golf course. I feel like there’s a lot of holes where you have to just make sure you free yourself up,” added Fleetwood.
Aaron Rai, from the West Midlands, Australian Jason Scrivener and Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen are a further shot back.
The current Race to Dubai leader – Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger – is among a group of seven players at four-under.
•For live scoring in the third round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, click here.