Master blaster Nienaber uses putting skills to lead Joburg Open

Johannesburg (AFP) –


Big-hitting Wilco Nienaber from South Africa displayed another strength Saturday with a string of superb putts to take a one-shot lead into the Joburg Open final round.

The 20-year-old, who turned professional last year, won rave reviews this week after slamming a tee shot 439 yards (401.5 metres), with many pundits labelling him the South African answer to Bryson DeChambeau.

DeChambeau has averaged 325 yards on the PGA circuit while Nienaber has the benefit of the ball flying further in the 1,753-metre (5,751 feet) altitude of Johannesburg.

"I holed some crucial putts that kept the momentum going," said Nienaber after carding a four-under 67 for a total of 197, one shot ahead of Dane Joachim B. Hansen, who fired a third-round 64 on a wet, chilly day.

South Africans Jacques Blaauw (73), Shaun Norris (69) and Brandon Stone (64) and Richard Bland (68) from England share third place, five shots behind the leader at Randpark Golf Club.

"I enjoyed it a lot out there, even though the umbrellas were constantly going up and down and rain tops going on and coming off," added Nienaber.

"My caddie (Jason Scheepers) has been really good. It felt like he had more than two hands at times because he was carrying so much.

"The final round is going to be great. It will be the first time I am in that situation and I am just going to embrace it and enjoy myself."

Joint-leader after the first round and one stroke behind Blaauw at the halfway mark, Nienaber started his third round poorly with two bogeys inside five holes.

Then, his putting skills took over and he birdied five holes, including three in a row from 12, to overtake Hansen, who, like Nienaber, is seeking a first European Tour triumph.

Hansen covered the front nine in only 29 shots thanks to an eagle, birdie, birdie, par, birdie, birdie blitz from the fourth over the par-71 Firethorn course.

He could not maintain the momentum, though, and bogeyed 11 before two more birdies kept him in contention to become the second Danish winner of the Joburg Open after Anders Hansen 11 years ago.

"It was one of those days where the umbrella went up and down about 15 times, but I kept a cool head out there," said Hansen.

"I played well with some good iron shots. I have played well on this golf course before and I like it here."