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Fichardt survives wind for Saint Omer Open lead

Darren Fichardt shot a 2-under 69 Saturday in windy, demanding conditions to take the third-round lead of the Saint Omer Open.

Fichardt finished 54 holes at 7-under 206 and is five strokes clear at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club.

Fichardt birdied five in a row on the front side, and even three back-nine bogeys couldn't stop him from taking his impressive lead.

"I knew it would be a hectic day when we started," said the 37-year-old Fichardt. "But it turned out to be absolutely brutal. I definitely needed all my experience and patience today."

The only other player under par for the tournament is Simon Wakefield, who had a 1-over 72 on Saturday. He finished three rounds at 2-under 211 for second place.

Perhaps the best illustration of how difficult Saturday was came from Mark Tullo. Playing in the middle of the draw in round three, Tullo fired a 4-under 67 and vaulted up 42 places into a tie for third. He was joined at even-par 213 by Gary Lockerbie (69) and Wil Besseling (73).

Second-round leader Sihwan Kim endured a brutal day on Saturday. He had a triple bogey, two double bogeys, four bogeys and a birdie. It added up to a 10-over 81 and Kim, playing his first year in Europe, fell into a tie for 20th at 4-over par.

This event is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and European Challenge Tour. Most of the game's best are at Olympic Club for the U.S. Open.

The South African Fichardt parred his first four holes on Saturday and that was enough to give him the lead thanks to Kim's fall. After the start, Fichardt birdied five in a row from the fifth to get to 10-under par. He was seven strokes clear of his closest competitors.

"The string of birdies on the front nine helped separate me from the rest of the field and it was just a question of hanging on the back nine," said Fichardt. "The birdies were a combination of hitting it close and holing some good putts."

Fichardt tailed off as the winds kicked up on the back nine. He bogeyed 12 and 13, but the conditions took a toll on the field. Despite the back-to-back bogeys, Fichardt was still six ahead.

That margin remained until a bogey at 17. Fichardt parred his last and will be five in front heading into Sunday.

"The back nine was something else. I was having to smash drives just to reach the fairway," said Fichardt. "If you make a bogey, you just have to shrug it off and move on, because everyone is going to make bogeys in conditions like these."

Fichardt is a two-time winner on the European Tour, but his victories came a long time ago. He captured the 2001 Sao Paulo Brazil Open and the 2003 Qatar Masters.

"It has been quite a few years since I won on The European Tour, but I've won a couple of titles in South Africa in the last couple of seasons," said Fichardt. "I know what it takes to get the job done and it's all good experience."

Adam Gee (75) and Pelle Edberg (72) are knotted in sixth at 1-over par.

Mikael Lundberg (68), James Heath (74), Alastair Forsyth (74), Andrea Perrino (74) and Simon Thornton (75) share eighth place at 2-over 215.

NOTES: Fichardt had his best finish of the year on the European Tour last week with a tie for 14th at the Nordea Masters...Defending champion Matthew Zions shot a one-over 72 and is tied for 20th at plus-4...Only eight players broke par on Saturday.

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