Spain’s Sergio Garcia will head into the final round of the Andalucía Masters in pole position to record victory on home soil for the second week in succession.
Garcia, who triumphed by a staggering 11 shots at last week’s Castelló Masters in Valencia and needs to win again to qualify for next week's World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, carded a 67 at Club de Golf Valderrama today for an aggregate score of six under.
That put him two ahead of fellow countryman Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Sweden’s Christian Nilsson, who equalled the best round of the week with a sparkling 65 containing eight birdies.
Overnight leader Richie Ramsay - third last week - was five under with two to play, but bogeyed the 17th and 18th for a 73 that leaves him three adrift.
Things could have been even better for Garcia, who almost recorded a hole-in-one at the sixth and collected six birdies in total, had he not made an eventful bogey at the 17th, Valderrama’s signature hole.
After finding a bunker off the tee, the 31 year old looked to have put his second shot into the lake guarding the green. However, the ball came to rest on a rock and Garcia took off his shoes and socks to play a risky pitch from inside the hazard.
He was unable to save par, missing the green to the right and then failing to get up and down, but a closing birdie, coupled with Ramsay’s failure to make par at 17, restored his two stroke advantage.
Asked to comment on his dramatic exploits at 17, Garcia said: “It obviously was risky, but I liked my chances better from there (to the right of the green) to get up and down than the drop zone.
"Today it was important after the three-putt on five to make birdie on the next and after the bogey on 17 to make birdie on the last. It was very nice to bounce back like I did.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s final round, he added: "I don't want to get ahead of myself. I think tomorrow is going to be a hard day. Hopefully I can come out and have the same feelings and mentality and my best will be good enough."
Jiménez, also looking to become the first Spaniard to win a strokeplay event at this venue, holed a delightful pitch for a three at the par five fourth and then claimed his second eagle of the day on the 11th when he struck a 246-yard approach shot to two feet.
A bogey at 15 prevented him from matching Garcia’s third-round score, yet the veteran remains very much in contention for a first win since last September, when he triumphed at the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre.
“I need to hole some more putts,” said Jiménez. “I made three under par with no birdies. I made two eagles on four and 11 with two great shots and the rest I played very solid.
“I gave myself many birdie chances, but I’m not on good terms with my putter these days. We are fighting a battle and the putter is going to lose.”
Nilsson, whose only European Tour victory to date came at the co-sanctioned SAINT-OMER OPEN presented by Neuflize OBC in 2009, birdied four holes in a row from the fourth and, after a bogey at eight, then picked up further shots at the ninth and 13th to surge into contention.
He did suffer a second setback at the short 15th, but recovered the damage at 17 before holing a sizeable birdie putt at the last.
“It was a fun day on the course today, one of my best rounds this year, or ever, maybe,” said Nilsson.
“The course has played quite difficult, with a bit less wind, but I’m really happy with my game - good shot making and I holed a lot of putts as well.
“Tomorrow is going to be a tough day, it’s an important day for me. I’m just on the bubble to making the Race to Dubai final, so I need something good this week. I’ve put myself in a good position, so it’s going to be a big day for me tomorrow, interesting and quite nervous I guess.”
Ramsay, who led after each of the first two rounds, said: “I’m a little bit disappointed, but all in all I’m in a good position going into the last round. My goal was to be in contention on the back nine on Sunday, and that’s still the plan.
“I feel my game’s in there. If I can get the little things to happen around the greens, if I can get a number on the board and make a challenge I still have a chance.”
England’s Steve Webster went round in 66 to climb into fifth on level par, but Grégory Havret, Ramsay’s nearest challenger after round two, carded a 76 to drop back to two over.