With precision driving and his usual brilliant iron play, Donald went shopping for birdies and one of the best putters in the game collected nine of them in all. Not dropping a shot completed a dazzling round for the Englishman, his 63 lifting him to 10-under-par, two shots ahead of overnight leader Ross Fisher.
It’s hard to believe based on Friday’s evidence that all has not been right with Donald’s game recently; the first man to win both the European and PGA Tour moneylists in the same year (2011) has not won a tournament since November 2013 and Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley took the difficult decision to leave him off the triumphant Ryder Cup team this year.
“I think everything starts for me when I feel like I can drive it in the fairway and then give myself some opportunities, and then I’m not scrounging around trying to make pars and get up‑and‑down.
“So I gave myself a lot of good opportunities today, I didn’t put myself into too much trouble, and obviously when the putter is warm, it’s always one of my best weapons in the bag. So it was nice to roll in a few today,” Donald said after one of the best rounds ever seen at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Fisher actually regained the lead from his compatriot after a wonderful eagle-birdie combo on the 10thand 11th holes, but an offline tee-shot on the par-three 12th drifted on to the mound next to the green and then bounced deep into the bushes, forcing him to drop and the resulting double-bogey checked his progress.
A wayward drive on 14 led to another bogey and Fisher probably did well to stop the bleeding and par the remaining four holes for a 70 and eight-under-par overall.
“It’s a tough golf course and I don’t feel like I played probably as solid as yesterday. I didn’t hit it as good off the tee. But I still felt like I played pretty solid. I hit one poor tee shot on 14 which cost me a six and had to take a penalty drop there. I got it to five‑under after 11, so I was hoping to kick on and reproduce 66 from yesterday or even a little bit better. But unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, so I still shot under par, even with a couple of those loose shots coming in.
“Today it just seemed like every putt we over‑borrowed. I hit at least half-a-dozen, if not seven or eight putts, that I hit exactly where I wanted to hit it, and just unfortunately was over-reading the greens today,” Fisher said.
Crucial errors on the back nine were also the feature of the two other golfers in the final three-ball – Marcel Siem and George Coetzee.
Siem lost ground with a level-par 72 leaving him on four-under-par, the German suffering successive bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes thanks to wayward tee shots.
“It was a strange day, the total opposite from yesterday. It started really nicely, but all of us had problems on the golf course today. It was not like yesterday where we fed from each other. I felt like we were never going to finish, and on 16, we felt the whole tournament was over already. We played five hours, two minutes, just had a really long round and we didn’t play as well as we did yesterday. Unfortunately the few chances we had on the back nine didn’t drop,” Siem lamented.
Coetzee plummeted even further down the leaderboard after a 74 left him on two-under, the South African dropping three shots on the back nine, including one on the infamous par-five 14th, where he found the dreaded love-grass.
Another Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood, had the next best round of the day after Donald, a five-under-par 67 that included a rare eagle on the 14th, as he swiftly recovered from being in the wars on the par-four 13th.
That lifted Fleetwood to three-under-par overall and in the five-man group tied for sixth. Brendon Todd, Thongchai Jaidee, Charl Schwartzel and Tim Clark are the other golfers on 141.
Ahead of them are Siem, Englishman Danny Willett, who shot a 68 to jump to five-under, and Frenchman Alexander Levy, who posted a solid 70.
“It was a good 70, I’m happy because it’s not my best golf but I managed the golf course well. It’s always good to play 70 on this golf course, it’s very difficult and it’s hot,” Levy said.
Although the English dominance, with four golfers in the top six, will be galling for the home fans, it would be boorish for anybody to begrudge the brilliant Donald his success.
“Obviously nine birdies around this place is a great round and something I was very pleased with. It’s been a while since I played such a solid round,” Donald said.
The man may never have won a Major, but he can certainly produce championship golf as he showed on Friday.
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