David Park recovered manfully from an uncertain spell in the middle of his third round to maintain both his lead in the Canarias Open de España and his hopes of landing his second title on The European Tour International Schedule.
The 29 year old Welshman led by four shots at the start of the day but six pars to start his third round followed by an unfortunate double bogey five at the short seventh, after a trip into the water, cost him his early advantage.
But the winner of the 1999 Compaq European Grand Prix recovered his composure manfully and birdies at the 11th and 16th helped him to a 71 for a ten under par total of 200, one shot clear of Argentine Ricardo Gonzalez and two shots ahead of Frenchman Christian Cévaër and Peter Hedblom of Sweden.
“I struggled a little bit out there today,” admitted Park. “To be honest I hit the ball okay but I just struggled with the putting a little bit. Had the lines okay all day but I couldn’t get the pace and kept leaving things short.
“But I was pleased the way I stuck in there after what happened at the seventh. I would have liked to have made a few more birdies, but it was a good performance on the back nine and a good score overall.”
Second placed Gonzalez – victor in last week’s Open de Sevilla - kept alive his dream of winning for two weeks in succession and should he do so, he would become the first player since Vijay Singh in February 2001 to win two consecutive tournaments on The European Tour International Schedule.
Singh won the Carlsberg Malaysian Open with a birdie at the third hole of a play-off to beat Padraig Harrington and then followed that with a two shot victory in the Caltex Singapore Masters and Gonzalez stayed firmly on course to repeat that feat.
The 34 year old Argentine was helped on his way by two eagles in his 64 for a nine under par total of 201, the first, an eagle two, coming thanks to his prodigious length from the tee, bounding his tee shot through the back of the green at the 401 yard sixth hole before pitching in from the back of the putting surface.
His second eagle, a more conventional three, came at the 502 yard 17th, where a drive and seven iron found the centre of the green before his putt found the centre of the hole from 30 feet away.
“I am feeling very confident with my driver and as a result I am managing to keep it on the fairway a bit better this week than last which is giving me a chance to birdie,” he said. “And there are a few short par fours as well here which are good for me.
“Although my driving was good, I think my putting was my best feature today. I putted fantastically well and I also hit the ball very well. I tried to concentrate hard over every shot and try to make birdie or eagle whenever I possibly could.”
As to whether he could repeat the Singh feat, Gonzalez remained philosophical. “I have a good chance now,” he admitted. “Tomorrow I need to go out and concentrate again and we will see what happens.”
Joint third placed Cévaër looked to have done his chances of featuring in the shake up some serious harm when he double bogeyed the eighth hole. But the Frenchman recovered manfully with three birdies in a flawless inward half of 32 for a 69 and an eight under par total of 202.
“I’ll try and do my best tomorrow,” he said. “I cannot really control what the other players are doing so all I want to do is play my best and shoot below par. This is a difficult game but it gives you good times too so I’m going to enjoy what I’m doing this week.”
Cévaër was joined on the eight under par mark by Hedblom who holed a superb par saving putt on the last after finding trouble in a greenside bunker to come home in 35 for 68.
“I feel good about today and I’m well positioned for tomorrow,” said the Swede. “There will be a lot of pressure on David but we will get our chances to make birdie too. I think if I can finish about 12 under par I will have a chance.”
Welshman Bradley Dredge took fifth place on 203 after a 64 while Klas Eriksson moved into sixth on 204 after his 67. Further down the leaderboard, Marcus Fraser, Gregory Havret and Santiago Luna shared seventh place on 205.