Angel Cabrera fell foul of Valderrama’s notorious 17th hole to throw the Volvo Masters Andalucia wide open after he had threatened to put a firm arm lock on The European Tour’s season-ending tournament.
The 33 year old Argentinian had seemed poised to go into the weekend with the biggest 36 hole lead of the season under his belt, but a double bogey on the penultimate hole brought him back to the field and instead he holds a four stroke advantage with two rounds to play.
Cabrera, who had opened with a 63, eventually signed for a 72 and seven under par total of 135 to lead a group of four players on 139, Welshman Bradley Dredge, Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Robert Karlsson of Sweden and past champion Colin Montgomerie of Scotland.
At one point Cabrera was seven strokes clear midway through his second round and threatening to eclipse the four stroke halfway margins assembled by four different players on the Tour in 2002. However his stumble at the finish changed the picture dramatically.
“My double bogey at the 17th could be very expensive” said Cabrera. “The rest of the field still have a four stroke handicap to make up but I lost my momentum with that seven. I drove into the bunker and hit a bad lob wedge for my third shot and it came up short in the water.
“Tomorrow I will just have to try my best and shoot as low as possible. It’s a difficult game as everyone knows and anything can happen around this golf course.”
Montgomerie, who won the title at Valderrama in 1993, came home in 32 for a round of 69 and rued a missed birdie putt at the 18th which would have taken him into the final third round pairing with Cabrera.
“I was disappointed not to hole that putt” he said. “I realised that if I holed it I would play with Cabrera and I was trying to do that for my own benefit and to put some pressure on. If I start two under par after four or something it’s game on because any lead around here can dwindle. There is potential disaster around every corner.”
Garcia compiled a steady one under par 70 to join Montgomerie on 139 and, like the Scot, he was frustrated at missing a short birdie attempt at the last to get into the last group. He admitted: “I was telling my caddie, Glenn, that I would love to go out in the last group but now I think the outcome will depend on Cabrera and the wind if it blows over the weekend.”
Karlsson fired the joint lowest round of the day, a four under par 67, to lay claim to that place alongside Cabrera in the last pairing while Dredge parred the last eight holes towards the end of the day to add his name to the list at three under par.
Justin Rose of England and Phillip Price of Wales were tied in sixth place on 140, two under par, after rounds of 69 and 73 respectively, leaving just a dozen players under par over a fiendishly difficult golf course measuring less than 7000 yards.
Montgomerie pointed out: “It’s great that we are back here. It’s a superb venue and a great challenge and I personally enjoy it very, very much. Win, lose or draw I’ve always enjoyed the challenge presented by Valderrama. My course management skills come out more here than anywhere else.”
Padraig Harrington, winner of the tournament last year at Montecastillo Hotel & Golf Resort, needs to finish in the top 27 to oust Retief Goosen as Number One on the Volvo Order of Merit - even if Goosen finishes in last place. However at the end of another erratic day for both men, Goosen holds the whip hand in tied 34th place to Harrington’s tied 48th.
Goosen shot a scrambled round of 74 for a five over par total of 147 – 12 behind Cabrera – while Harrington’s prospects of retaining the title evaporated as he finish on 150, eight over par.
"Golf can change overnight, but I've got no confidence on the greens at the moment and I just didn't play well," Harrington said. “I didn't do anything right and it was just one of those days."
A bogey at the first - the hole where he received a two stroke penalty yesterday for illegally repairing a pitch mark that was off the green - sent him off on the wrong foot and he had to wait until the long 17th for his first birdie.
By then he had also bogeyed the fourth, seventh, ninth and 10th, and after pitching to two feet to pick up a shot on the 17th he hit a tree off the final tee and bogeyed that.
Goosen's only birdie was also at the 17th and he double-bogeyed the short 12th, going into sand and over the green and then missing a five foot putt. The South African, attempting to retain his crown as Europe’s Number One, capitalised on Harrington’s errors to take an advantage which, though not exactly commanding, may be sufficient to wrap up at second successive Volvo Order of Merit.