Fichardt weathers conditions best to lead in Qatar

Darren Fichardt used all of his experience in very difficult windy conditions to card a 70 and open up a one-shot lead heading into the final round of the 2021 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

The South African won this event in 2003 and has racked up four other victories in his 398 European Tour appearances before this week at Education City Golf Club.

The venue may be a little further inland than Doha Golf Club where Fichardt lifted the Mother of Pearl trophy 18 years ago, but the windy conditions are similar and the 45-year-old moved to seven-under to lead the way by one shot from England’s Jack Senior, who carded a level-par 71.

On a day when just four players were under par, India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar carded a 68 to move up 28 places and sit at five-under, a shot clear of Welshman Jamie Donaldson, Dane Joachim B. Hansen and Frenchman Antoine Rozner.

The difficulty of the conditions over days two and three was shown with the lead having not moved from seven-under after day one.

Fichardt claimed his last victory at the 2017 Joburg Open but lost his card in 2019 only to claim it straight back at the Qualifying School, and he is now on the verge of European Tour win number six, just 11 days short of the 20th anniversary of his first.

“It’s tough because you can hit a great putt or shot and still end in disaster,” he said. “You have to commit to whatever you are going to do, stick through with it and where the ball went, it went.

“Not put too much thought into it or get down on myself. I’m doing my best and if I’m making a big number then I’m making a big number, that’s just how it is.

“I think the guys who are trying to win their first event, they are trying to win. If you’ve won a few times you know it’s about doing the best you can do. The sun shines on everyone, if it’s your week, it’s your week. It’s about doing the best you can do.

“Tomorrow will be quite a fight. We’ll take whatever comes our way and see what happens.”

Overnight leader Jeff Winther put his tee shot on the par-five second into the desert to drop a shot and playing partner Senior made a birdie from inside 10 feet to join the lead.

Senior then spun his tee shot on the next back to three feet and when he two-putted the par-five sixth from 87 feet, he led by two.

But the 32-year-old missed a short one on the next and then three-putted the ninth to drop back into a share and was soon joined by Fichardt.

The 18-time Sunshine Tour winner had bogeyed the fourth but he hit a stunner to tap-in range at the fifth and then holed from 15 feet at the 10th to get to seven-under.

Another birdie from 12 feet at the 11th put him in the solo lead and with Senior dropping shots at the 11th and 12th and Winther also stumbling at the 12th after only just clearing the water, Fichardt led by two.

But he found sand off the tee at the par five 13th and after hitting a poor chip and three-putting from off the green, a double-bogey had him back alongside Winther at six-under.

Senior had dropped four shots in six holes but he drained a monster on the 13th to rejoin the lead, with Fichardt three putting ahead at the 14th.

Winther found a nasty position off the tee at the par-three 15th and a three-putt after failing to find the green with his second attempt led to a triple-bogey.

Fichardt recovered from his stumble with a birdie at the 16th after a brilliant shot from the fairway bunker, and he added another from the fringe on the next to take the solo lead.

Brandon Stone was in a share of seventh in three-under, Shaun Norris in 18th on one-under, Garrick Higgo in 28th on one-over, Justin Walters and Louis de Jager on two-over in 40th, Hennie du Plessis three-over in 47th, and Wilco Nienaber four-over in 56th.

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