Three hours on the putting green paid off for Brandon Stone, who found his groove in the third round at the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Mount Edgecombe on Thursday.
The 17-year-old Gardener Ross player holed a 15-footer for birdie at the seventh to launch an impressive bogey-free run that ended with a six-under-par 66. Seven off the pace at the start of the round, Stone finished just two shots shy of tournament leader David Law of Scotland.
The overnight leader dropped a couple of shots on his way to a 71, but a wire-to-wire win is still on the cards for the Scotsman who leads at 14-under-par 202.
Local favourite Jared Harvey fired in spurts, but a handy 69 lifted him to sole second on 203. And Paul Shields of Scotland punished the front nine with two eagles and three birdies to turn in 29 and parred his way home to a 65 to join Stone on 204.
Yet another Scot, Kris Nicol, fired a 66 to pull up alongside Ryan Dreyer, who carded a 67, on 11-under-par 205.
Stone spent a lot of time at the putting green after round two with his father and caddie, professional Kevin Stone. “We tried a couple of things because I was getting very frustrated on the greens,” said Stone.
“I was giving myself a lot of chances but the putts weren’t dropping, so we worked on finding a putting stroke that would work. You almost have to lift the ball off the face here. It took six holes, but the ball finally dropped.”
Stone, who shots a pair of 69s in the previous rounds, also holed a bunker shot at the eighth that really got his momentum going. A run of three birds from the 12th put him straight into the fight for the title on Friday.
“That’s all I aimed for today, to just get myself in contention,” said Stone, who wrapped up his third amateur title at the Prince’s Grant Invitational in January. “Tomorrow we try again. It will be a tough battle; there are a lot of guys who are hungry chasing the title, but it will be a great fight.”
Untouchable over the first two days, Law called his round “an up-and-down” affair.
He characterised it as such because of three bogeys which crept onto his card after a superlative start with three birdies in his first five holes.
“I was never really in trouble today, so I shouldn’t complain,” he said. “The putter just ran cold on me again and I missed a lot of birdie chances, especially over the first nine.
“I just have to stay patient with the putter. I just need to hole a few and get the job done.”
Harvey birdied the first, fourth and fifth, countered a bogey at the sixth with birdie number four at the seventh, but lost his momentum after the turn.
“I turned in 33, dropped on 10 and birdied 11 and after that it just became a fight to make par,” he said. A birdie on 17 was made redundant by a drop at the 18th, but the 22-year-old was still happy with the outcome of his round.
“After the first round, I wasn’t exactly out of it but I had a lot of work to do to get back in the fight,” said Harvey. “I would have liked another 65, but the wind made it tricky over the last four holes. I think 69 was a great number for me for today, but who knows? Maybe another 65 will roll around tomorrow.”