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Larrazabal holes chip to keep three-shot Dunhill lead

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Malelane (South Africa) (AFP)

A brilliant birdie chip was the highlight for Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal on Saturday as he maintained a three-shot lead after three rounds at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.

The 36-year-old from Barcelona underclubbed off the tee at 12 and his shot fell well short of the green, leaving him in danger of dropping a shot in 37 degree celsius (99 fahrenheit) heat.

But his chip curved after landing on the green and rolled into the hole for one of five birdies in his two-under 70, which gave him an overall 11-under-par total of 205.

Wil Besseling from the Netherlands, ordinarily a second-tier Challenge Tour competitor who was invited to play in the opening event of the 2020 European Tour season, also carded a 70 to lie second on eight-under.

A bogey six on the final hole left South African Branden Grace third on 2019 after a 71 at the Leopard Creek Country Club, which borders the famed Kruger National Park wildlife reserve.

South African Zander Lombard (69) and Marcus Armitage (71) share fourth, six shots behind four-time European Tour winner Larrazabal, whose last title came four years ago.

Among those on four-under is Swede Joel Sjoholm, whose 68 was the lowest round of the day over the picturesque 6,627-metre (7,249-yard) layout.

Sjoholm birdied eight of his first 13 holes before the surge came to a halt and he finished disappointingly with a bogey on 16 and a double bogey on 18.

- Schwartzel a possible threat -

Although four-time Dunhill Championship winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa also trails Larrazabal by seven strokes, he may pose a threat to the leader.

The 2011 US Masters winner, once ranked six in the world, is playing his first tournament since being sidelined last April by a wrist injury.

His 70 included five birdies and three bogeys, and a final round in conditions expected to be eight degrees celsius cooler could generate excitement if the pacesetters falter.

Ranked 261 in the world, Larrazabal had two birdies and two bogeys on his outward nine, followed by a run of three birdies, including the birdie chip at 12.

His four-shot advantage was reduced by one stroke when he three-putted 17, with the first of them for a birdie racing past the pin.

"Mistakes happen, and with this heat they are going to happen more," said Larrazabal, referring to his three bogeys.

"We have to allow ourselves to make some mistakes but I am very happy with the way I'm playing and the way I'm approaching every single shot this week."

Larrazabal has worn trousers in each round despite the European Tour agreeing to allow shorts be worn for the first time during a tournament due to the intense heat.

Old habits die hard, though, and many of the golfers from Europe have donned the traditional outfit of trousers, a golf shirt and cap.

Most South Africans, on the other hand, have switched to shorts, taking advantage of a relaxation in the dress code which applies only to the Dunhill Championship.

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