Sergio Garcia moved within touching distance of his first professional title on Spanish soil when he moved into a commanding five shot lead at the end of the third round of the Canarias Open de España at El Cortijo Club de Campo.
The 22 year old Spaniard, one shot clear of the field at the halfway stage, stretched into the distance with a controlled third round 67 in the testing winds which whirled around Gran Canaria, his nearest challenger on nine under par 207 being Italy’s Emanuele Canonica with 17 year old Spanish amateur Rafel Cabrera and England’s Greg Owen one shot further back on eight under par 208.
Garcia and Cabrera will play in the last group on the final day alongside Canonica and the World Number Four admitted he was looking forward to playing alongside the teenage prodigy already being talked about in Spain as the next ‘Garcia’ himself.
“I am really looking forward to it and I am sure we will have a lot of fun,” said Garcia. “Hopefully he will have a good round and I will have a good round and we will try to take positions one and two.”
Obviously Garcia has earmarked position number one for himself and his form in the third round suggested he had every reason to be confident. He dropped shots at the testing 13th and 15th on the inward stretch but showed his mental strength to immediately follow each of those with birdies.
Added to the other birdies of the day at the second, seventh, ninth, tenth and 12th, it meant the Ryder Cup player was more than happy with his day’s work even though he suffered the slight irritation of leaving his eight footer for a closing birdie at the final hole, above ground.
“It’s great to be in the lead and I’m very satisfield with the way I am playing. I am still missing a few putts but my long game has been so accurate recently that I am still managing to make a lot of birdies and shoot low scores.
“A five shot lead is good, obviously it would have been better if I had holed that putt at the last to make it six, but it is still my biggest lead as a professional and I’m looking forward to the challenge and can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Second placed Canonica could have finished closer to Garcia but he dropped four shots in three holes from the 15th. However the Italian showed character and a good deal of mental strength to birdie the final hole for a 70 to ensure his place in the last group of the final day.
Aside from Garcia, the main talking point of the final day was the performance of Gran Canaria’s own Cabrera, runner-up in the British Boys Amateur Championship at Ganton last summer, and who, at one point was seven under par for his round until bogeys at the 17th and 18th meant he had to settle for a 67.
“I felt very good and very proud because I come from here and I was proud to go out in front of the local people and play well,” he said. “I didn’t feel too much pressure because I had a lot of people out there supporting me which helped me relax and of course my father was caddying for me.
“At the start of the week my objective was to make the cut and then maybe try and make the top 15 which would be a really good performance. Right now, I am still actually thinking like that and I think that is the best thing to do, not try and think about anything else.
“To be compared to Sergio is a great honour but I can’t really be compared because he is a professional and I am an amateur and still at school. But he is an idol of mine and it will be great to play with him tomorrow.”
Cabrera’s mood contrasted greatly with that of Greg Owen, who finished alongside the young Spaniard on eight under par 208 after a 72 but had to contend with the agony of dropping three shots in his last four holes.
“I got a couple of really bad breaks at the end of the round which was really disappointing because I didn’t feel I had played that badly,” he said. “Okay, I hit a poor drive at the last into the bunker but at the 15th my approach shot took a huge bounce left of the green after I thought I’d hit a pretty good five iron and then at the 16th my two iron again took a big bounce and ended up in the water.
“It’s very disappointing, especially the 16th which felt like daylight robbery to me to be honest because I didn’t play that badly. It is particularly disappointing because I had got myself back into things around the turn.
“Tomorrow I’m still going to go out and try my best because there is a long way to go but it is hard to accept what happened to me over the closing holes. It’s hard to win a tournament when that happens.”
One shot behind Cabrera and Owen was Sweden’s Carl Pettersson, winner of the Algarve Open de Portugal two weeks ago, who carded a 69 for seven under par 209 while eight players finished on 210.