Lester still hunting victory as Rafferty & McKibbin catch fire in South Africa

John Craven

Tom McKibbin (Photo: Getty Images)

Hermitage’s Rowan Lester clung to the coat-tails of home favourite, Casey Jarvis to keep his hopes alive ahead of the final round of the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Randpark.

The standard of scoring at the top of the leaderboard has been phenomenal this week and Lester has played his part, firing a third straight round in the 60s to move to 14-under par on Wednesday.

The Dubliner, who intends to go to Q-School in September, fired five birdies in a three-under par round of 69 to remain in outright second, four shots behind Jarvis.

“It was a really steady round,” said the former North of Ireland champion golfer. “I offset a pair of bogeys with five birdies and the highlight of my round was on the ninth, where I stuck it in the bunker and then holed the trap-shot for birdie to keep the momentum going.

“The greens were much firmer and it was a lot harder to get it out of the rough if you missed the fairways. I’m pretty happy with a 69 and I look forward to a nice battle with Casey tomorrow.”

The GUI’s travelling squad oozed class on day three with Caolan Rafferty moving into fourth place with a sumptuous seven-under par 65 around Firethorn.

The Dundalk man enjoyed a tie for 6th finish last week but he’ll be aiming to go a few places better after firing eight birdies to move to within eight strokes of the lead ahead of the final day.

If that wasn’t enough, Holywood’s Tom McKibbin outscored everyone in posting a sensational low round of the day – eight-under par 64 – that started with an incredible six birdies on the spin.

The teenager posted nine birdies and an eagle over the course of a special round to fly inside the top-20 at six-under par.

“I started very fast,” laughed McKibbin. “I didn’t have many pars today at all compared to the last few days. I birdied nine to finish off the front nine with no pars. I birdied the 12th and 13th and then on 14 I eagled.

“I was right between clubs but went with the shorter one and hit it a lot harder. I hit it to five feet which was pretty easy for the way I was putting today!”

The look on his playing partners’ faces said it all as McKibbin made putt after putt in an incredible showing.

“To be honest, I couldn’t believe it either,” Tom added. “I couldn’t get the ball in the hole the last few days and they all went in today. That’s golf I suppose, isn’t it.”

Mallow’s James Sugrue could only watch his teammates make his even par moving day effort look very ordinary on a superb day of scoring – he’s two shots better off than McKibbin in a tie for 10th at minus-eight.

Malone’s Matthew McClean was another in super form in posting five birdies in a bogey-free round of 67 to sit in a share of 22nd at minus-five.

Naas’ big-hitting Robert Brazill moved back into the red for the tournament after signing for a much-improved four-under par round of 68 to get to one-under par while Carton House’s Keith Egan’s 74 saw him drop to a tie for 60th at plus-three.

Massereene’s Tiarnan McLarnon (73/77) had earlier missed the halfway cut at six-over par.

Overnight leader Jarvis held steady during round three to take a commanding four-shot lead into the final round at Randpark Golf Club.

The fearsome Firethorn Course had proved scoreable in the first two rounds after torrential rain on the eve of the event had softened up the greens.

Jarvis opened with rounds of 66 and 65 to open up a two shot lead, but firmer greens and breezy conditions in the afternoon made it a different proposition on Wednesday, but the country’s top junior got around in 67 strokes to get to 18-under-par.

“I just kept it in play really nicely, as I’ve done over the first two days,” said the 16-year-old Boksburg resident. “That’s the key to scoring well here; hitting fairways and greens. I was driving it really well and I’m putting well too. On a course like this you can score well if you hit the fairways, but if you don’t you can really struggle.”

Jarvis began the season with victory in the Free State Open and he carded rounds of 69, 63, 64 and 63 at Centurion Country Club to win the Gauteng North Open by eight shots. Now he is targeting one of the two flagship titles on the GolfRSA and with 22 birdies and just four bogeys in 54 holes, his chances keep improving.

“I got it to 19-under, but I had a three-putt bogey on the 16th. I was still putting really well on the back nine, but a lot of them burned the edge or stopped in the jaws. You just have to accept it and move on; I’m learning how to use the frustration to build positive energy.”

Although happy to sleep on a four-shot cushion, Jarvis is taking nothing for granted, least of all Irishman Rowan Lester in the chasing pack.

“I have always wanted to win the SA Stroke Play and the SA Amateur, but I’m not going to change my strategy for the final round. Rowan is a really good golfer, so I expect him to make a charge. The greens are only going to get firmer, so I am sticking to my game plan. Nothing heroic, just fairways and greens.”

South Africa’s Kyle de Beer and Caolan Rafferty emerged as the next closest challengers while young Amilkar Bhana showed some serious big match temperament, playing alongside Haider Hussain from England and South Africa’s number one ranked Martin Vorster.

The 15-year-old reigning Nomads SA Boys U-17 champion and 2019 Reply Italian U-16 Championship winner knocked in a birdie putt at the final hole for a round of 70 and made it a five-way tie on nine-under. Also tied for fifth were Frenchman Nicolas Muller and compatriots Dirkus Joubert, Keagan Thomas and Kieron van Wyk.

African Amateur Stroke Play Championship winner Vorster and Gloucestershire’s Hussain are a further shot back after respective rounds of 71 and 72, with Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation standout Siyanda Mwandla (69) and James Sugrue (72) in joint 10th.

Full scoring HERE

South Africa squad to play the South African Stroke Play (10-13 Feb) in Randpark:

Robert Brazill (Naas); Keith Egan (Carton House); Rowan Lester (Hermitage); Matthew McClean (Malone); Tom McKibbin (Holywood); Tiarnan McLarnon (Massereene); Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk); James Sugrue (Mallow)

The GUI’s High Performance Programme is supported by Sport Ireland and Sport NI.

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