Schwartzel puts Clarke in shade
South African Charl Schwartzel has a second successive win in his sights after another flawless display in the Joburg Open yesterday.
A glorious third-round 64 takes Schwartzel into the final day on 18-under par, four ahead of Darren Clarke, who couldn't match the local player's sizzling back-nine burst despite carding a third-round 67 (four-under par).
The 25-year-old Schwartzel won the Africa Open last Sunday with a 20-under total and the only time he has dropped a shot at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington this week was a double bogey at the 12th hole of his opening round on Thursday. That was a careless four-putt six, but he has made up for that since.
There were a dizzying 21 changes at the top of the leaderboard before Schwartzel, one behind England's David Lynn at half-way, took control over the closing stretch.
While a rain delay of more than two hours appeared to upset the rhythm of others, the European Tour money list leader had three birdies in four holes from the 12th.
Putts of four, 20 and 15 feet took him three clear, he rolled home a 30-footer on the 17th and two-putted the par-five last to complete an inward 30. The last player to win back-to-back European Tour titles was German Martin Kaymer at the French and Scottish Opens last July.
Schwartzel is currently 51st in the world and another victory would make it odds-on that he will earn a Masters debut at Augusta in April. The top 50 the week before the event are guaranteed places.
Clarke is now outside the top 100 and has not been to The Masters since 2007, but the 40-year-old, whose 63 on the adjoining West Course on the first day was his lowest Tour round for 11 years, was impressive again in shooting 67. He shared top spot after birdies on the fifth, sixth and eighth and, after three-putting the next, came home in 33.
Michael Hoey is next best of the Irish competitors, his 67 propelling him to nine-under par in a tie for 14th and in line for a decent pay cheque. Simon Thornton is on seven-under after a 71.
Federer expects Woods return
Roger Federer has revealed he has been in touch with Tiger Woods and hopes the world No 1 will be back competing soon.
Woods announced he is taking an indefinite break from professional golf after admitting to infidelities. Federer is one of the few to speak to Woods since the media furore over the American's private life erupted.
"I wish him all the best getting back, hopefully on the golf course, resolving his problems," said the 28-year-old.
"The tabloids are going crazy, sponsor contracts are falling apart . . . I've always been aware that the image you patiently construct for an entire career can be ruined in a minute," said Federer. "It scares you a bit, but that's the way things are. Tiger needs calm. And soon he'll become the wonderful golfer that we know again."
'Spring' sale for Killarney tickets
With a prime-time slot over the August Bank Holiday weekend and just weeks before the Ryder Cup team is announced, the 3 Irish Open is expected to attract the marquee names of world golf to Killarney. Up to 75,000 visitors are expected for the event.
Tournament sponsors 3 have announced a 'Spring special' sale with family season tickets available at €50 for two adults and two children (a saving of 66 per cent). Adult single daily tickets are just €15 while there are concessions for senior citizens (down €20 to €10.) Tickets from Ticketmaster or European Tour website.