ERPM Golf Club is one of the most prestigious courses in Gauteng but MJ Viljoen tamed it for the second day in succession on Thursday as he fired a five-under-par 67 to go to 13-under overall, enjoying a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Vodacom Championship Unlocked.
ERPM has been home for such famous golfers as Denis Hutchinson, Neville Sundelson, Neville Clarke, Dean van Staden, John Bland and Brett Liddle, but the 25-year-old Viljoen, who played much of his junior golf here, is seemingly the new darling of the Boksburg club judging by the warm reception he received when he arrived at the clubhouse in late afternoon with a handy lead over Jake Redman, who also shot a 67 on Thursday.
Viljoen’s round was built around a blazing run around the turn, which includes some of ERPM’s most notorious holes, as he collected five birdies in six holes from the water-lined eighth. It was a fabulous addition to the superb 64 he shot in the opening round.
“The whole front nine was actually very nice. I played brilliant golf, but the putts just didn’t go in. And then I was a bit scruffy on the last five holes when I lost focus a bit,” said Viljoen.
“This is a little course, but it takes it out of you. I felt I could have birdied every hole on the front nine, that’s how close I was hitting it, even though it was quite windy and gusty as well today, and the greens are starting to get firm.
“So I started playing five metres short because the greens are getting bouncy, tougher and tougher. I had a couple of good lines with the putter but my stroke did not feel as good as yesterday. I was pulling or pushing a couple of putts. It’s not easy backing up a 64, but I told myself to play like I was two-over-par, so I was in the mental state to do something good,” Viljoen said.
Apart from Redman, who eagled the par-five second, Viljoen will also have the evergreen order of merit leader Darren Fichardt, three shots behind after a brilliant 66, and the experienced duo of Danie van Tonder and Neil Schietekat, who both shot 70s to lie five shots back, to worry about in the final round.
Viljoen’s previous Sunshine Tour title came when he came from behind with a 65 to win the Sun Fish River Challenge three years ago, so now he is going to have to lead from the front if he is to become a multi-winner on tour.
“I’m just going to go out and enjoy myself. I feel I’m on the right track so I’m not going to be hassled if I’m having a bad round. I haven’t been in this position before, I like to think that I’m well-controlled under pressure, but that’s something I’ll think about when I go to bed this evening,” Viljoen said on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m not going to chase a good round (on Friday), but just try and hit greens and get the putts in.”