TOMMY Fleetwood reckons he needs three wins this year to make the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, where the young Englishman secured his European Tour breakthrough last August in the Johnnie Walker Championship.
He’s on the brink of the first of those after “King Louis” placed his crown on a shoogly peg. It was sitting exactly where Louis Oosthuizen, the home favourite and defending champion, wanted it to be after moving into a share of the lead with Fleetwood with three holes to play in the third round of the $4 million Volvo Golf Champions.
Durban Country Club is one of those courses, though, where danger lurks around almost every corner and, to the shock and disappointment of the locals out supporting the South African, Oosthuizen came a cropper at the 16th.
Around an hour earlier, compatriot Charl Schwartzel had produced a miraculous recovery from behind trees on the right, but there was nothing remarkable about the way Oosthuizen played the par-4 dogleg.
The 2010 Open champion got lucky with his tee shot, which found a gap in the trees. He claimed later he’d got a “flyer” with his approach but it was a failure to get the required turn on his ball that resulted in it burying itself in the trees up near the green.
After declaring it unplayable and returning to the original spot, he came up short right second time around and a seven eventually went down on the card. “I hit a few wayward shots today,” admitted Oosthuizen after signing for a 71 to sit on 8-under-par. Fleetwood, following a 69, leads on 10-under – one ahead of both Frenchman Victor Dubuisson (69) and Dutchman Joost Luiten (70).
Having come from five shots behind at the same stage 12 months ago to win the European Tour’s “Tournament of Champions” at the same venue, Oosthuizen is still confident he can become even more popular with those South African fans. “With seven birdies on my card, I had an opportunity to go 12-under at least today, but I’m still right in it,” he insisted.
Another South African, Branden Grace, will feel exactly the same after the 2012 winner moved into fifth – three off the lead – on the back of a 69 that started with two bogeys but was flawless thereafter.
Fleetwood, though, is the man in the driving seat and, while it will be the Indian Ocean he’s looking out to on the first tee as opposed to a view down Glendevon, the 22-year-old from Southport intends adopting the same mindset today as the one that earned him that maiden title triumph in Perthshire.
“If your gameplan is good enough, then you should be playing the last round exactly the same way as the first one,” he said. “I learned that from Gleneagles, where things didn’t go my way throughout the final round but I stuck to my gameplan and that’s what earned me the win.”
Even if can land another one today, Fleetwood, who has changed every club in his bag with the exception of a trusty putter since that triumph, reckons he’ll still have a huge task on his hands to be on Paul McGinley’s side for the first Ryder Cup in Scotland for more than 40 years.
“It will take an exceptional year - I’ve probably got to win three times if I’m going to get in,” he predicted. “It’s a long way off for me so the Ryder Cup hasn’t come into my head at all this week.”
Paul Casey, a two-times Gleneagles winner, carded a best-of-the-week 65, admitting afterwards that he’s been impressed so far with his new caddie, Prestwick’s Mark Crane. “It’s early days but he’s thorough and conscientious,” said Casey, who suffered the ignominy of being sacked by his last Scottish bagman, Craig Connelly.
“When a caddie comes recommended by other players and people off the course, as was the case with Mark, you know that he’s doing something right,” he added of Crane, who helped Richie Ramsay record two European Tour triumphs. “He’s also young and I’ve got a few years ahead of me.”
Colin Montgomerie, someone with a few more miles on the clock, rolled back the years by covering the first ten holes in 4-under before venting his frustration over a 69 for 3-under. “I didn’t hole a putt longer than two feet,” he groaned, suggesting a putter being tried out for the first time was heading for the bin. On a day when he, too, suffered on the greens, Stephen Gallacher, the only other Scot in the 36-man field, signed for a 73 to sit three-over.