The third round of the Magical Kenya Open produced a new leader- the third this week, after South African Justin Harding shot seven under par 64 to open a two shot lead at the apex of the leaderboard, as Kenya’s last man standing Samuel Njoroge endured a birdie-less three over par 74 round to remain rooted in the lower echelons of the table.
Harding started strongly with a bogey-free front nine spiced up by three birdies on the first, third and sixth holes for a decent three under par 32 before seizing the outright leadership with another magnificent 32 on the back nine made up of an eagle, three birdies and a bogey.
“I played pretty good to be fair. I hit it solidly the first 12 holes and managed to make a couple of putts. I holed a wedge on ten which was an added bonus. Then after that I had my usual struggles on the 13th through the 17th and managed to roll in a good putt on the 18th to give myself a bit of an extra boost. Tomorrow I’ll give it my best effort. You’ve got to play it hole by hole. Two shots ahead, you’ll probably find that by the time I tee off I’m not going to be leading. It’s just going to be a matter of executing plans and trying to get over the line,” said Harding.
Johannes Veerman produced the best round of the day after an astonishing nine under par 62 propelled him to T2 position alongside round 2 leader Scott Hend and compatriot Kurt Kitayama. The United States of America golfer produced a bogey free round comprising of nine birdies to move 22 places up the leaderboard.
“I’ve been hitting it well all week so I just knew that if I could get it right on the putting greens that I could score a low one today. This course is tough but if you hit it well there’s a lot of birdies you can make – some driveable par fours, all the par fives are reachable – if you can get the flat stick rolling you can go deep. Yesterday I spent a lot of time just grooving my stroke down, trying to get the speed right and trying to get it down. I’ll just kind of keep the process going, I’m hitting it well, I’m putting it well now and for the most part, just keep it all in check. Do my post-round practice and then go for it again,” Veerman noted.
Australian Hend, the round 2 co-leader, remained in contention despite dropping to the second position after carding three under par 68. The 47 year old Hend dropped two shots on the back nine after back-to-back bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes to neutralize the fine run he had enjoyed on the front nine where he sank two birdies and an eagle on the number six par five. He said: “The back nine today was a little bit average again but it’s only Saturday, and the leader on Saturday doesn’t necessarily lead on Sunday. I just need to be in position at the turn and come home hard.”
Kitayama continued his study ascension on the leaderboard breaking into the podium places after a run of six birdies and a bogey saw him card five under par 66 to remain only two shots behind the leader. After breaking into the top 10 yesterday, the 25 year old American has maintained a fine momentum, emerging as a genuine contender for the Magical Kenya Open title on his debut.
The day’s biggest gainer was South African Jarden Schaper who moved 30 places up the leaderboard to break into the top 10 after shooting six under par 65. Tied in position seven, Schaper is in the good company of round 2 co-leader Kalle Samooja, countryman Garrick Higgo, defending champion Guido Migliozzi, Bernd Ritthammer, Dean Burmester and Syme Connor.
Samooja, Burmester and Connor who were all fired up in the opening two rounds, played very conservatively today carding +1 and identical level par scores respectively to drop six shots behind the leader.
It was a bad day in office for Scotland’s Richie Ramsay who dropped from T3 position to 52nd after a costly +6 round today. After a bright start which saw him occupy the second and third positions in the two opening rounds, Ramsay lost the plot today in an untidy round that comprised of three birdies, five bogeys and a shocking “double par” on the par four eight hole for a -4 gross score.
After raising the hopes of the nation with a gallant fight back that earned him a place in the weekend rounds, Njoroge’s game failed to show up today. A drab display which saw “Njoro” fail to register a birdie all day was compounded by three bogeys to consign the Railway Club player to the 75th position. Having exceeded expectations on his debut appearance as a professional, Njoro will be expected to play more aggressively tomorrow if he’s harbouring any hopes of enhancing his paycheck.
“Today it was a bit tough, I wasn’t putting well all day. But I expect tomorrow to be a bit better. After today’s round, I have really practiced putting so I hope to make seven or eight birdies tomorrow,” Njoroge promised.
As at the end of today’s penultimate round, pros from South Africa are enjoying the best run with four players Harding, Higgo, Schaper and Burmester comfortably perched in the top 10. USA and Scotland have also two players each in the top 10.
In the tournament’s 50-year history, no winner has ever registered a -20 gross score with the current record standing at -19 held by Lee James (2002) and Martin Lafebar (1999). With today’s winner currently on -16, could this be the year when the glass ceiling will be shattered?
“The golf course lends itself to a bunch of birdies. If you execute your golf shots and roll in a couple of putts you can certainly post a score. As you can see today, there are a couple of guys that went really deep. It’s just a matter of really taking advantage of the par fives and a couple of the driveable par fours,” Harding offers.
DAY 3 LEADERBOARD
1 Justin Harding -16
T2 Johannes Veerman -14
T2 Scott Hend -14
T2 Kurt Kitayama -14
5 Calum Hill -13
6 Jean Baptiste -11
T7 Garrick Higgo -10
T7 Guido Migliozzi -10
T7 Ritthammer -10
T7 Jayden Schaper -10
T7 Dean Burmester -10
T7 Kalle Samooja -10
T7 Syme Connor -10