Smith and Ferguson share SA Stroke Play lead

Crop_Jason Smith 3GNGMIDRAND, 4 February 2016 – South Africa’s Jason Smith fought hard for a share of the third round lead with Ewen Ferguson from Scotland in the South African Stroke Play Championship on Thursday.

Smith overcome a nervous bogey to card a five under 67 at the Blue Valley Golf and Country Club finish at 17-under-par 199 with joint halfway leader Ferguson, who eagled the closing hole for a 68.

Ireland’s Stuart Grehan closed with back-to-back birdies and a 68 that left him one back of the co-leaders, while Tim Widing’s 69 will see the Swede start the final round three off the pace.

South Africa’s Aubrey Beckley held a share of the 36-hole lead and remained at 13 under with a 72.

Former Nomads SA Boys U-19 Match Play champion Paul Boshoff launched into the mix with a blistering 64 and tied for sixth at 12 under with Southern Cape’s Brandon Cloete, who also carded 72.

Ross Sinclair – the reigning Nomads SA Boys U-19 Match Play champion – notched five birdies in his last six holes to vault to joint eighth on 11 under alongside Jack Hume. The Irish lad, who ranks 21st in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, signed for a 68.

Such has been the low scoring the Gary Player designed championship layout this week that Smith established a new course record 64 in the first round, but saw his target broken twice – first by Widing, who carded a 63 early in the second round and then by Grehan, who fired a 10 under par 62 late on Wednesday afternoon.

Smith edged out Scotland’s Bradley Neil, Dermot McElroy from Ireland and compatriot Stefan Cronje to lift the 2014 South African Stroke Play Championship title by one stroke at Benoni Country Club.

He bogeyed the opening par-four first, but rallied with his first pair birdies at five and six.

Another brace of gains at 12 and 13 and a third pair at 17 and 18 left him with a chance to enjoy a repeat performance, but the 19-year-old Irene golfer knows he will have to keep his foot on the pedal.

“The scores are going to be low on Friday, so will have to shoot low to have a chance,” he said.

“The course is in pristine condition and the greens are receptive. Even though the set-up is tough, the guys are firing at the pins. There’re still a lot of guys who can hit a hot streak in the final round to win, so I am just going to keep doing everything that I’ve been doing.”

Ewen Ferguson-5gngFerguson, who fired a flawless second round 64 to join Beckley in pole position on Wednesday, had a great run with birdies at one, three, four, six and eight, but bogeyed the ninth to turn four under.

Battling fatigue on the back nine, the 19-year-old Bearsden golfer dropped further shots at 11 and 16, but the arrival of his Scottish Golf Union National Squad team-mates at 18 did the trick.

“I hit a hard six-iron to 20 feet and popped the ball in the hole,” Ferguson said. “My caddie said if I made birdie at 18, he would carry the bag to the car, so I guess you can say I made double sure.

“Seriously, though, the guys pitching up at 18 was just what I needed. It was great to finish on a high note and get a round of high fives.”

Ferguson held a share of the lead in 2014 and 2015 and knows he will have a fight on his hands to cross the finish line this year.

“The leaderboard is very tight and any guy within six or seven shots from Jason and I could potentially hit another course record and beat us to the podium,” he said.

“It’s going to take precision golf and a bunch of birdies to close the deal. I am going to have a good night’s sleep and go for broke on Friday.”

PHOTOS – South Africa’s Jason Smith and Ewen Ferguson from Scotland; credit Ernest Blignault.