India’s Arjun Atwal, a graduate for the European Tour Qualifying School last November, climbed into the lead of the Caltex Singapore Masters after third round 67 took him to ten under par and a stroke clear of overnight leader Nick O’Hern.
Atwal, only the second Indian golfer to earn Full Membership of The European Tour after Jeev Milkha Singh, birdied the final hole to draw level with O’Hern but the Australian squandered the lead with a two bogeys in the last two holes.
Atwal, winner of three tournaments on the Davidoff Tour, picked up seven birdies in total with two bogeys on his way to leading a European Tour event for the third time having previously led the 1997 Johnnie Walker Classic after the first round and the 2000 Malaysian Open at the halfway stage.
“I was pretty happy with that last hole,” said the 28 year old from Calcutta after holing out from 15 feet. “I read the line perfectly on the putt.”
But it was perhaps his putt on the penultimate hole that turned out to be his best of the day. With the tee moved back in the testing par three, Atwal found himself between clubs and after deciding on two iron, hit it fat into the water.
“A three iron would have been perfect,” he said. “That was the worst shot I hit all day.” In the end Atwal holed out from 25 feet for bogey.
Atwal has been knocking on the door for some time this season having been in contention in the dunhill championship in South Africa after three rounds before finishing 12th. On the Davidoff Tour he led with nine holes to play in Myanmar a fortnight ago and also led with three holes to play in India last week before finishing two shots adrift.
“I’ve been playing well and just need to hang in there,” he said. “I am not going to expect anything from tomorrow’s round, just stick to my game plan and see what happens.”
O’Hern dropped off the top of the leaderboard for the first time since his course record 64 in the opening round but only after three putting the 17th and then missing the green on the last and narrowly missing his par putt. Nevertheless he remains very much in the hunt for his first European Tour title. His best finish to date was third in the Heineken Classic last season after he led with one round to go.
Two birdies in the front nine of 34 took the left hander three strokes clear of the field but three bogeys over the homeward stretch proved costly as he signed for a level par 72.
“I’m a little bit annoyed at the last couple of holes but not much I can do about it as I hit the putts I wanted and they just didn’t go in,” he said. “The good thing is I am only a shot out of it. The main thing is to put myself in a position to have a chance on the last nine on Sunday and that is what I have done.
“It would have been nice to have a two or three shot cushion but things happen and I am still in with a chance. It was tough going. The wind was a big factor. You had to think your way round again which is the way you play this course. I hit a couple of loose shots the back nine and things didn’t quite work out. Like yesterday I had chances to go ahead and open a lead but it didn’t work out that way and that is golf.”
A shot further back is American Jim Johnson, winner of the Asian PGA Qualifying School last month, who also shot a level par 72 while another Australian left hander Richard Green lies in the group on seven under par 209 after a round of 68, four under par.
Six time Major Champion Nick Faldo felt the effects of travelling round the world over the past couple of weeks as he struggled to a one over par 73 to lie four shots off the pace.
“I was way too tired today,” he said. “I played all right but used up so much energy reading the greens and trying to get the ball in the hole it has worn me out.
“Tomorrow I need to come out and feel I have got something in the tank.”
Meanwhile, Sweden’s Richard S Johnson was celebrating again after winning a Volkswagon Beetle Turbo by holing in one on the 210 yard 17th hole. The winner of the ANZ Championship in Sydney a fortnight ago holed a four iron to win the keys for Volkswagon’s newest model.