Kruger takes sole lead at Avantha Masters

Gurgaon: On an exciting third day, generally called the moving day, it was the dimunitive South African Jbe Kruger who stood out with a fine six-under 66 that carried from overnight tied 16th to sole lead after three days in the Avantha Masters. He will take a one shot lead into the final round  but a host of players will fancy their chances at DLF Golf & Country Club, where just three shots separating the top 15.

The South African looking for his maiden win had two eagles and two birdies in a round of 66, which left him 11-under, one stroke ahead of halfway leader Peter Whiteford, Germany’s Marcel Siem and France’s Jean Baptiste Gonnet.

It was a tough day out there for the Indians, as each of the dozen who made the cut slid after the third round. Anirban Lahiri (72) was the top Indian in tied 20th, down from overnight seventh, while Shamim Khan (74), who was also seventh dropped to tied 31st.

Also at tied 31st were Shiv Kapur (71) and Vijay Kumar (71), who were both 30th after second day. Jeev Milkha Singh (75) had a sharp fall from tied 30th to tied 50th where he was joined by Vivek Bhandari (75), who also came down from overnight 30th.

SSP Chowrasia (75) came down from tied 43rd to tied 58th the same as Manav Jaini (75) and Mukesh Kumar (75). Gaurav Pratap Singh, who made the cut on the line in 54th place was now down to tied 58th.

Himmat Rai, starting the week in tied fourth, had a tough day with a round of 79 and he was now way behind in tied 64th place, after having been tied 25th at the midway stage. Sanjay Kumar, tied 43rd, also dropped to tied 67th after a round of 78.

On a day of fluctuating fortunes, Kruger’s consistency over the third round eventually proved the decisive factor as the 25 year old kept his card bogey free.

The trio, which follows Kruger, had to endure a battle with themselves before coming within one shot of the leader. Siem fought back brilliantly after double bogeys at the first two holes, Whiteford double bogeyed the sixth and 17th – the latter costing him the outright lead – and Gonnet did well to recover from four bogeys in his first 12 holes with a run of five birdies in the last six holes.

Kruger’s first eagle came at the par five sixth when he holed a 20 foot putt, and he was even more impressive at the driveable 15th, holing a putt from off the green after his five wood finished short of the putting surface.

“I’m going to try to play how I played today,” he said. “If it’s meant to be my week, it’ll be mine, so I don’t want to think too far ahead yet.  The putts need to go in and I think that’s what defines the winner.”

Asked about his eagles, Kruger added: “I got a little bit lucky on the sixth. I used a six iron and it landed about 20 feet away, and I managed to sink it. That was the longest putt I made today and I was lucky it went in. On the 15th, I just drove it a little short of the green and I made a pretty simple putt from about 12 metres.”

There were some real low scores as Spaniard Jose Manuel Lara and Tano Goya brought in 64s and three others  had 66 each. Lara bogeyed the third, but then got it back on fourth. He switched gears on the sixth and had four birdies in a row till tenth. He added further birdies on 12th and 14th and closed again with birdies on 16th and 17th for a stunning eight-under 64.

Liang Wen-chong, playing for the first time in India since his Indian Open win in 2008, went out in the first pairing in the morning. He kept it simple with two birdies and two eagle. He was in position for a third eagle when he went over the green onto the edge on the 18th. His long downhill putt for eagle just went past the hole. On the birdie putt, it shaved the edge and he settled for a par. “Maybe I tried too hard,” he said with a laugh.

Lahiri said, “It was very disappointing. I made a lot of mistakes today. Hit a couple of bad shots off the tee. To sum it up, putted badly.  I missed a lot of opportunities. I could have got the momentum early, but I didn’t take my chances.”

He added, “I fought back well with birdies on the 12th and 13th and I told myself I should try to get to minus eight.  I missed two putts from five, but I hit all greens coming back. All in all I am still fine, I have kept myself in touch. I just need to get that putter hot at the start.”

Jeev said, “I just couldn’t get going. I did have four birdies but the patch between 11th and 14th saw three bogeys and a double bogey that messed it all up.”

Bhandari, who was on a song first two days, laughed and said, “Maybe it caught up with me. I went into the water twice on 17th and finished with a triple. Till then I was fine at even par. Let’s see there’s one more day and I have generally played well.”