A pair of soaring eagles by the gifted Sergio Garcia sent Spain ahead of England at the top of the leaderboard after the third round of an absorbing World Golf Championships - World Cup at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla in Spain.
Garcia’s brilliance, allied to the solid play of Miguel Angel Jiménez, enabled the Spanish side to shoot an 11 under par 61 in the fourballs for a 24 under par total of 192. Spain lead by one stroke from halfway leaders, England, who were unusually muted in a third round of 68 which left them on 193.
Four teams shared third place on 195 – the Irish pair of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, Sweden’s Joakim Haeggman and Fredrik Jacobson, the United States team of Scott Verplank and Bob Tway and defending champions, South Africa, represented by last year’s winning combination of Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini.
Spain, who startd the day six strokes behind England, made a dramatic early move with Garcia's birdie two at the third being followed by a Jimenez birdie at the next and Garcia's first eagle at the fifth.
Better was to follow as the Spanish friends gelled superbly and picked up a further five shots before Garcia reduced the 522 yard 16th to a drive, 144 yard wedge and six foot putt.
Garcia said: "We are definitely pleased with the result. We made a couple of big putts and gelled very well. When I was out of a hole Miguel was right in the thick of it and when he was a bit out, I was in. That was important.
"The support of the crowd helps us. I always enjoy it more with a big crowd because I get into it a bit more. The crowds have been unbelievable and it's a big credit to the Andalucians and the people of Sevilla that they have made an effort to come and watch."
England, who saw a five stroke halfway lead disappear in the face of the Spanish barrage, admitted that they had performed below the high standards which they had set over the first two days. As Luke Donald observed wryly: “We made some solid pars! A couple of birdies just doesn’t cut it in fourballs.”
On the positive side for the England team, they go into the final series of foursomes knowing that they shot the lowest score under the ‘alternate shot’ format on Friday to establish their healthy lead.
Donald added: “Obviously it was frustrating for us today. Fortunately we had a lead to work with and although we’ve lost it, we are still very much in the hunt. If we play like we did in the foursomes we can still win it.”
His partner, Paul Casey, chimed in: “I’d love another 64 tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun playing with Spain. They are the home tesm and the crowds have been fantastic today, a lot of people out there. If I had to choose a team to play with in the final group it would be Spain.”
Ireland, joint first round leaders after a 60 in the fourballs, were five shots worse off in the third round, but the difficulty of the pin positions and a stiffening breeze meant that the Irish finished well in the hunt on 195, three behind Spain.
It was an impressive finish by the Irish, who were five under par for the last seven holes. McGinley started the ball rolling with three birdies in a row from the 12th followed by another at the 16th, then Harrington finished things off with a glorious seven iron to six feet at the last.
“Spain really caught fire today” said McGinley, “But we’ve kept ourselves in it. It’s obviously very bunched up there but we’re only three behind. We played great in the foursomes on the last day a year ago and shot 67 and if we shoot the best score tomorrow we will be there or thereabouts.”
South Africa finished strongly with four birdies in the last six holes and Immelman and Sabbatini know from experience just what ti takes to win.
Twelve months ago the Springboks were seven ahead after three rounds and won by four and Sabbatini said: "This is a new year and a new situation. Sergio and Miguel Angel are playing great but know we can come from behind in the foursomes format."