JOHANNESBURG – Graeme Storm will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the SA Open as he bids for his first European Tour title in 10 years.
The Englishman turned in a third-round 67, the same as Rory McIlroy, who moved into second to set up an intriguing fight on Sunday.
“I’d like to be a few shots better or at least a few shots closer to the lead,” McIlroy said. “But hopefully, I can get off to a good start tomorrow and put a bit of pressure on Graeme and make it interesting.”
Storm had five birdies on Saturday and extended his bogey-free run to 41 holes to leave him at 17-under 199 and on the verge of a second European Tour title after winning the Open de France in 2007.
“I have never played with Rory before and I know him really well so it will be a lot of fun,” Storm said. “If he hits a good shot and pips me or beats me comfortably, or whoever makes a move from behind, I can’t really control that. All I can do is control my golf ball.
“If I can shoot another score in the 60s I’ll be pleased even if I don’t win. I have come here as a big underdog so that is fine with me.”
It would complete an amazing turnaround for Storm, who thought he lost his playing privileges by just 100 euros in October but was then handed a reprieve after Patrick Reed opted not to play the Final Series.
“I find myself now in a position that I have only been in a couple of times over the past few years,” Storm said. “Things have been difficult and last year was a tough year but it has given me a new lease of life and I hope to continue playing well.
“I thought I had lost my card and all of the privileges that come from playing on the European Tour, and when that happens you realize that you can’t afford to lose it.”
McIlroy twice caught Storm at the top of the leaderboard with the help of a stunning eagle from 157 yards on the par-4 seventh and a hat trick of birdies on the back nine.
But the second-ranked McIlroy, who almost pulled out of the tournament on Friday with a back complaint, bogeyed the 18th as Storm put in a consistent performance to extend his second-round lead by one shot.
“The back was a little tender this morning – I didn’t really get much sleep last night,” McIlroy said. “I couldn’t get comfortable and I had to wake up in the middle of the night to take a couple of painkillers, but the physios did a good job on me this morning and strapped me up pretty well, and then gave me a couple of anti-inflammatories, which helped.
“It was a bit uncomfortable for the first five or six holes but then I took another couple of anti-inflammatories in the middle of the round and it actually felt pretty good on the back nine so hopefully it will continue to feel that way.”
Storm has led a tournament three times after 54 holes on the European Tour, but hasn’t converted any of those leads into victories.
Jordan Smith (68) looked set to challenge Storm after four birdies and an eagle but bogeyed the final two holes to leave him four shots behind his compatriot, level with home favorite Jbe Kruger (69). Italy’s Edoardo Molinari equaled the course record with a 63 – as Storm had done Friday – to surge more than 30 places up the leaderboard into a tie for fifth. Molinari is at 12 under, alongside South African duo Dean Burmester (67) and Jaco Van Zyl (68), French pair Romain Langasque (68) and Joel Stalter (65), and American Peter Uihlein (70).
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