Rising star Jeunghun Wang produced one of the great rounds in Nedbank Golf Challenge history, firing an eight-under-par 64 to promote himself to the top of the leaderboard after the third round at a blustery Sun City on Saturday.
The 21-year-old South Korean is an immense talent, having won twice on the European Tour this year, in successive weeks in Morocco and Mauritius and both in nail-biting fashion. He is the youngest golfer to win back-to-back events on the European Tour and should he convert his three-stroke lead into victory at Sun City on Sunday, he will become the youngest ever winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, some eight months younger than Sergio Garcia was when he triumphed at the Gary Player Country Club in 2001.
Having shown his mettle already this year, Wang produced faultless golf, the swirling, blustery winds not bothering him, as he birdied the first two holes, gained further shots on the fourth and sixth holes, and then applied the coup de grace by going eagle-birdie on the 10th and 11th holes.
A sixth birdie on the last was the cherry on top of a tremendous round that earned him unstinting praise from his fellow competitors, leaving Wang on 11-under-par for the tournament.
Louis Oosthuizen trails Wang by three shots, bogeys on the last two holes irritating him on a testing day.
A four-under-par 68 by Andy Sullivan saw him race up the leaderboard into third place on seven-under-par, while Branden Grace and overnight leader Alex Noren are tied for fourth on five-under.
“I did really well today, I played my best golf and obviously I love the course because I shot 64!
“I’m so happy with that and I’m even more happy that I didn’t have any bogeys, so that is a great round for me. It was really hard conditions and at the start I was thinking of just making pars, maybe shooting one or two-under. Even four-under would have been very difficult today,” Wang said.
On the 500-metre 10th hole, Wang used a superb three-iron from 232 yards, bouncing it through the fringe of the greenside bunker and then watching in delight as the ball kicked right to within a couple of feet of the hole to make the only eagle of the day – a testament to how tough conditions were. There were five eagles in the first round and 11 on the second day.
Oosthuizen caught fire on the back nine to stay in touch with Wang, making birdies on the 10th and 13th holes, and then picking up successive shots on the 15th and 16th holes.
But he made a pair of fives to finish his round, dropping back to three behind.
“It was a tough day again, but I played well. I would have been a lot calmer if I was just one behind, but I can’t be too upset because I played nicely.
“I mustn’t look at the last two holes, although it’s never nice to finish like that. I just didn’t get the pace right on my first putts, hit it past on 17 and then had a similar putt on 18, got scared and left it short.
“But I’ll take being on eight-under in these windy conditions, I hit the ball really good, especially in the wind, which was swirling today and so difficult to judge,” Oosthuizen said.
Sullivan also prospered on the back nine to shoot 68 and said he had his putter to thank for his excellent score.
“I didn’t have a good warm-up and I was struggling with my irons, but my putter kept me in it, which is a bit of a reversal of recent form. I wasn’t hitting the ball well but I managed to find something on the back nine.
“It was difficult to choose the right club because the wind was swirling so much, if you took a bit more you could end up 40 feet away. So I just tried to hang on to the young man’s [Wang’s] coat-tails,” Sullivan said.
Grace described the difference the wind made as being three clubs.
“It was not fun at all out there today. The golf course plays completely different. The tucked-away pins you can normally go for, but on a day like today, you can’t go for them. You really just have to stay patient, play to the fat side and try to make a putt. And that’s not easy on these greens,” Grace said.
The conditions bit particularly hard for Noren, who started the third day two strokes ahead but ended it six off the pace.
A double-bogey six on the third hole, when he drove into the bushes and was then short of the green with his third shot, set the tone and he bogeyed three of the last six holes for a 75.
Henrik Stenson, the Race to Dubai leader, should wrap up the order of merit on Sunday as he produced the sort of precision iron-play that won him the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2008, shooting a 69 to lie in the tie for sixth with Jaco van Zyl, the South African who struggled to a 74.