Holders Great Britain and Ireland will take a two point lead over Continental Europe into the final day singles session of the third Seve Trophy, after an enthralling third day’s play at Campo de Golf Parador El Saler, to the south of Valencia.
At the start of the day Colin Montgomerie’s men, who won the last staging of the contest at Druids Glen in April 2002, held a three point lead, but it was whittled back to two at 8-6, as Seve Ballesteros’s braves claimed the morning greensomes session 2 ½ - 1 ½.
The home side, who won the inaugural Seve Trophy match at Sunningdale Golf Club in 2000, hoped to make further inroads in the four afternoon foursomes, but could only share the session 2-2, leaving the overall state of the match at 10-8 in favour of the visitors.
Being the holders, Great Britain and Ireland now only need four and a half points from the ten singles to retain the trophy, Continental Europe facing the tougher task of yielding six and a half points from the ten ties.
Montgomerie said: “It was a very tough day out there. I think we got out of jail a little bit this morning ending the session only one point behind when it could easily have been two and then this afternoon we ended all square.
“That just goes to prove how tough and how equal these two teams are and so it is fair to say that I am delighted to be able to take a two point advantage into Sunday. We need four and a half points and the mood in our team room is as it has been all week, very upbeat and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Rival captain Ballesteros admitted his charges had it all to do. “It is a bit better than the last match (where Continental Europe trailed by four points going into the singles) but it is still a big margin to make up and it is going to be a tough day,” he said.
After their morning reverse in the greensomes session, Great Britain and Ireland were determined to get off to a good start in the afternoon and were given the perfect fillip by Montgomerie and partner Padraig Harrington.
The Scot and the Irishman eventually saw off the Spanish duo of Ignacio Garrido and Miguel Angel Jiménez, who had been rested by Ballesteros in the morning, by 2 and 1, but only after the Great Britain and Ireland pairing had withstood a late rally by their opponents.
Two up after 13 holes, Montgomerie and Harrington saw firstly Jiménez and then Garrido make birdies at the 14th and 15th respectively to level the match. However, any hopes the Spanish duo harboured of winning a hat-trick of holes ended at the 16th.
Montgomerie, who together with Justin Rose won the last three holes of their morning greensomes match to snatch a vital half point against Thomas Björn and Sergio Garcia, showed his putting was still on song when he rolled in a ten footer at the 16th to move back in front.
With the honour on the 17th tee, Harrington fired a superb tee shot to the centre of the green which Garrido could not match, his tee shot at the 213 yard hole flying the green and coming to rest in a cavernous bunker. Jiménez did well to escape to 12 feet but when Garrido missed his par effort, the Spanish duo offered their handshake in concession.
Although they had surrendered the first point, Continental European spirits were high because, in the next two matches, both partnerships were well ahead and within minutes of one another had secured vital points.
First pair back on the board were German Alex Cejka and Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin who continued to produce the stunning form they had shown together since the contest began, winning their fourth consecutive point in tandem, this time the victims being the English duo of David Howell and Lee Westwood.
Before the match Westwood, like Cejka and Jacquelin, had won three points out of three, but his one hundred per cent record was immediately under threat when Jacquelin rolled in a birdie putt on the opening green to set the tone for the afternoon.
Steady golf from the Continental European duo moved them three up after ten holes before Cejka’s 20 foot birdie putt at the 14th was repeated by his partner at the 15th to close out the match 5 and 3.
Within minutes, the overall score moved to 9-8 thanks to the Swedish duo of Niclas Fasth and Fredrik Jacobson, who proved too strong for the two Pauls, Casey and Lawrie, eventually running out 3 and 2 winners.
It left all eyes on the final match between the English duo of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and the Ryder Cup pairing of Thomas Björn and Sergio Garcia, a true rollercoaster of a match which was illustrated between the sixth and the eighth, where Poulter and Rose went from one down to one up.
It was an advantage the Englishmen held on to and when Poulter rolled in a birdie putt at the 15th to move two up, the point looked secure. A half was attained at the 16th before Rose ensured the point was safe with an exquisite tee shot at the 213 yard 17th.
Just like in the morning, when Rose’s tee shot to five feet allowed Montgomerie to make birdie to maintain their comeback, this time the Englishman’s four iron strike to two feet was good enough to force Björn and Garcia to concede a 2 and 1 victory.
“We had a ding-dong game out there and when we looked at the scoreboard coming down the final few holes, we realised how important it was to the overall position for us to get the point and we were delighted to do so,” said Rose.
The vanquished Garcia said: “It was a shame we couldn’t get anything from the game but we tried our hardest and that is what we will have to do tomorrow. It will be hard but we will have to try and play our best and pick up the six and a half points we need.”