New Zealand go head to head with the United States in the final round of the World Golf Championships-EMC2 World Cup knowing that they have an outstanding chance of taking the Americans’ crown at The Taiheiyo Club, Gotemba, Japan.
The Kiwis, represented by Michael Campbell and David Smail, shot a seven under par 65 in the third day fourballs for a 22 under par total of 194. But right on their heels are the United States pair of David Duval and Tiger Woods, whose 63 for 197 pushed them ever closer to the top of the leaderboard.
Host nation Japan, last year’s runners-up Argentina, France and South Africa share fourth place a further stroke behind with four European nations – Denmark, Scotland, Spain and Wales – on 199.
However Campbell, a winner on The European Tour this year, is under no illusions who will start favourites in the final round. He said: “I think the bottom line, in terms of expectations, is for the USA team to win. You ask the media – anybody. But we are on a mission tomorrow. We are underdogs, no question about it, against two of the top three in the world.
“We have nothing to lose, really. That’s my attitude. We will just go out and play and give it our best shot and see what happens.”
The French side of Thomas Levet and Raphaël Jacquelin produced a superb 65 to get into contention, mainly through the hot putter belonging to the latter, who picked up four successive birdies from the tenth to propel his team within striking distance of the lead.
Levet commented: “I think we have a chance now. Raphaël played really well today and I just tried to keep encouraging him. He had seven birdies on his own and hit some great shots. I thought when we started that something like 20 under would be close to the lead and I think we could have been about two shots better.”
Eduardo Romero and Angel Cabrera of Argentina, who pushed the United States all the way in their home country last year, joined the chasing group on 18 under par thanks to a putt of nearly 40 feet by Romero for an eagle at the last.
The man they call “El Gato” admitted that he and Cabrera have played up to his nickname this week, moving stealthily through the field to get within striking distance of the leaders. Romero said: “We have definitely given ourselves a chance tomorrow. We missed a lot of chances in the first two rounds but we are getting better and better.”
Wales, inspired by a ten under par round of 62, joined the group on 17 under, with Mark Mouland and Phillip Price combining well in the better-ball format. Mouland took time to study the leaderboard and admitted: “I think anyone within five shots, as we are, has at least half a chance. We are both steady players and I think the key is to stay out of trouble.”
Scotland, joint leaders after the first day and paired with Duval and Woods, showed they were up to the occasion. Despite being unable to make a birdie in any of the first five holes, Andrew Coltart and Dean Robertson caught fire. Or, to be more precise, Robertson suddenly discovered that his lukewarm putter had become red hot.
He holed a succession of monster putts – varying in distance from ten feet to 40 feet – from the sixth to the 11th as Scotland briefly moved into outright second place. However their charge ground to a halt at the 16th where Coltart’s five iron approach flew over the green and out of bounds while Robertson, plugged in a bunker in two, needed another ten footer to salvage a bogey.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley went to the turn in 31 and threatened to make a big push for the top, but the birdies dried up somewhat on the homeward journey and they finished the day tied with England, Australia and Norway on 200 after a round of 64.
The English pairing of Paul Casey and Ian Poulter carded a nine under par 63 with the former showing his impressive ball striking at the last, hitting a drive and eight iron to the 517 yard par five and sinking the six foot eagle putt.
The lowest round of the week came from Norway, who made commendable progress through the field after a stunning 61. Per Haugsrud and Henrik Bjornstad came home in 29 to give themselves a wonderful chance of a high finish and a substantial pay day.