Saturday, 04 May 2002
Malcolm Mackenzie moved into the lead of the Novotel Perrier Open de France at Le Golf National to put himself on course for a first European Tour victory in his 509th event.

Mackenzie fired a seven under par 65 to move to 14 under par and one stroke clear of the defending champion José Maria Olazábal and overnight leader Trevor Immelman with Dane Anders Hansen a further shot back on 12 under par.

At the start of the week Mackenzie wasn’t even sure if he would be playing after his two year old daughter Cora spent a couple of nights in hospital after suffering from dehydration but his wife, Natalie, persuaded him to carry on and it has proved a wise decision.

“It’s been a weird week,” he said. “I came back from a two week holiday in Florida so I have had three weeks off altogether. When I got back my little daughter, Cora, was taken to hospital so I thought I was going home on Tuesday. That was a worry but now out of the way. Maybe it has spurred me on a little bit.

“What amazes me is that I have had three weeks off and not hit a ball and come out and played really well. It comes to show it is not all down to practice and hard work sometimes. Sometimes a layoff does you good. I didn’t hit a ball for three weeks. I have been in theme parks in Florida. Going on rollercoasters and enjoying myself.”

Refreshed and back at a course where he has previously enjoyed some good results, Mackenzie finds himself leading going into the final round for the first time since the 1990 Murphy’s Cup where he finished second, a result which remains his best in 21 consecutive seasons on Tour.

“I haven’t won in all the years and you keep hoping. I don’t give up. You just hope your day will come. But you need to be there after three rounds to have a chance and I have a chance now. Hopefully I will play tomorrow like I did today. But I am not going to get too excited because I know what this game is like.”

Mackenzie got off to the perfect start with a birdie on the opening hole and followed that with a second just two holes later. After almost losing his tee shot on the sixth he was pleased to get away with just a bogey but the turning point came at the eighth, a magnificent three iron setting up a third birdie of the day. When he chipped in for eagle on the next hole Mackenzie was out in 32 and in relaxed mood. Three birdies coming home completed an excellent 65.

Olazábal closed the gap to only one with birdies on the last two holes as he seeks to retain the title he won last year at Lyon Golf Club.

The Spaniard, third in the Volvo Order of Merit, started his round in spectacular style with a hole in one on the second hole with a four iron. But after picking up two more shots he narrowly missed a birdie chance on the 15th after two magnificent shots on to the island green and dropped shot on the 16th but his brace of birdies to finish put him right in the hunt.

“It will be interesting tomorrow but there is a big pack of players who can win the tournament, anyone within five or six shots of the lead can win,” he said. “It will be tough but at least I am giving myself a chance. I am happy with the way I have scored. I had the chance at the 15th and then bogeyed the 16th and all of a sudden I was falling too far back so it was important to finish birdie, birdie.”

Immelman, who led by four overnight, could not repeat his heroics of the second round when he shot a 64 and instead had to settle for a one under par 71 and just one stroke off the lead.

“I felt I played nicely but just couldn’t get going,” said the 22 year old South African. “It was just one of those days. Felt I hit some good shots and they didn’t quite work out and made some good saves other times. All in all it was a pretty good day. I haven’t shot myself in the foot and I am right where I want to be. I am within striking distance.”

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