Fichardt Takes Two-Stroke Lead in Zimbabwe
Fichardt's round of 69 lifted him to 10-under-par 206 for the tournament, the largest lead in three days of extremely competitive golf.
But he is hardly in the clear, with Andre van Staden and Richard Sterne both at 8-under-par 208, and then the quartet of Nicholas Lawrence, Ian Hutchings, Mark Murless and Jean Hugo at 209.
And Fichardt, who made his professional debut in this event in 1994, is the first to admit that the tournament is still wide open.
'Nobody seems to be running away with this,' he said. 'I'm leading at the moment, but I feel like I had a really frustrating day out there. I feel like I'm playing badly and am leaving a lot of shots out on the course.'
Fichardt seemed to be making his move on the front nine on Saturday when he surged to 11-under-par at the turn. But two quick bogeys at the 11th and 12th holes, the second as a result of a poor tee shot, slowed his progress.
'I felt like I was getting going and then those two bogeys stopped me in my tracks,' he said.
Van Staden also made a strong claim for his maiden victory on the Sunshine Tour. The Johannesburg professional birdied the first and second holes and then holed a 10-foot putt for eagle at the par-5 5th to set up his round. A birdie at the ninth saw him turn in 5-under and only one behind Fichardt going into the back nine.
But a warning for slow play unsettled Van Staden, who dropped shots at the 10th, 15th and 16th holes for an inward half of 38 and a round of 69.
'I felt rushed out there,' he said. 'It's a pity because I've been working with a sports psychologist, and he has really helped me to relax during my round and focus on each shot. But when we got the warning for slow play, I was rushing everything.'
Sterne, the leading amateur in this event last year, kept himself in contention with a 70 that started with a bogey, while Hugo - the joint overnight leader - simply could not get his round going and managed only a 72.
But it has been the nature of this tournament that the indifferent golf the leading professionals are complaining of is still good enough to keep them in the hunt for the title.
'It looks like everybody is leaving a few shots out on the course,' said Fichardt. 'But a nice 64 on Sunday could be just what is needed.'
The chances of a Zimbabwean retaining the trophy that Mark McNulty won last year evaporated on Saturday. Marc Cayeux, only one shot off the lead overnight, became the victim of a dismal 76 that saw him drop to 2-under-par overall.
Cayeux's troubles began early in the round, and a run of bogey, bogey, triple bogey from the third proved too much for him to come back from.
Bulawayo's Barry Painting is the leading Zimbabwean in the field at 4-under-par 212.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.