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Saturday, 07 February 2004
He might not have troubled the scoring record books any further but Ernie Els nevertheless extended his commanding lead in the Heineken Classic to eight shots at the end of the third round as he continued his seemingly inexorable stride towards a third consecutive title at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

There were no records broken, unlike the first two days when the 2003 Volvo Order of Merit winner carded a course record 60 and a 66 to post the lowest score to par (18 under) after 36 holes in the history of The European Tour.

But the South African’s third round 68 left the defending champion leading on 22 under par 194 and still seemingly out of sight of his nearest challengers, Australia’s Adam Scott and Gareth Paddison of New Zealand

Els was not quite in the dominant mood he had been heading into the weekend and, in fact, gave those leading the chase a sniff midway through the day. After bogeying the ninth – one of three dropped shots during the round for the South African - Scott eagled the tenth to move within four strokes momentarily.

But normal service was resumed moments later when Els himself eagled the tenth before stringing together consecutive birdies to keep the gathering field at bay.

The run appeared to set Els on target of equalling his own European Tour record score for 54 holes of 23 under, made on his way to victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in Perth last February but his third bogey of the round, at the 16th, slipped him back.

Again it gave a slight chink of light for the chasing pack but although Scott, a four-time winner on The European Tour since turning professional in 2000, birdied the 17th, the red figure was sandwiched between blue bogeys at the 16th and 18th meaning he had to settle for a 68 and a 14 under par total of 202.

He was joined on that figure by New Zealander Paddison who carded a 67, a round which also featured an eagle three at the tenth and six birdies but, which like Els’s round, also featured three dropped shots.

Considering all the factors, such as slightly tougher playing conditions and such a healthy lead, Els admitted he was prepared for a difficult round but insisted on playing confident, attacking golf to keep the momentum flowing.

“The third round is always very important. You have got to keep it going,” he said. “It might not have been the best scoring round of the week but at least I got another shot on my lead today. It was a good day's work.

“It's on your mind and you can't be afraid to play your shots. A lead like this can make you play too safe and I didn't want to play like that. Maybe leading from the front is a little bit more difficult than you think. People probably think it is like a walk in the park, but you have got to keep it going.”

Behind Scott and Paddison, nearest in the chasing pack are Australians Peter Fowler and Peter O’Malley alongside Peter Hanson of Sweden, the trio all on 13 under par 203, a highly respectable 54 hole total in normal circumstances but one which, at Royal Melbourne, sees them nine shots off the lead.

New Zealand's Mahal Pearce will head into the final round in seventh place on 12 under par 204, one ahead of four players including England's Peter Baker and Australian Paul Sheehan who, together with former Open Golf champion Paul Lawrie, shared the round of the day.

All three shot seven under par 65s and Lawrie's effort pushed him up the leaderboard from 68th at the start of the day into a share of 16th place. The effort was all the more laudable considering he did it all with a borrowed set of clubs after his own failed to arrive with him in Melbourne.

“It's happened four or five times in my career now. I arrived a bit rusty but I borrowed a new set from Callaway so there has not been any real problems,” said the Scot. “As a golfer you have good days and bad days. Today was a good day.”

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