A Scot will lead the field into the final round of the UBS Hong Kong Open - but not the one most people expected. While pre-tournament favourite Colin Montgomerie remained very much in contention for his 30th European Tour title in a share of second place, it was fellow countryman Simon Yates who grabbed the plaudits after an enthralling third round in Fanling.
Yates, a Thailand resident and an Asian Tour regular for the past decade was in scintillating form at the Hong Kong Golf Club, posting a sensationally flawless nine under par 61 for an 11 under par total of 199 to take a two shot lead over Montgomerie, who carded his second consecutive 66.
Joining the eight time European Tour Order of Merit winner on nine under par 201 in the co-sanctioned event with the Asian Tour were two of his European Tour colleagues, Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson and James Kingston of South Africa who, together with Padraig Harrington, finished second last year behind Miguel Angel Jiménez.
But the main applause of the day was reserved for Yates who set a new course record for the altered lay-out and set himself up for the biggest title success of his professional career.
Three birdies in a row from the second hole set him up for an outward half of 31 but it was turning for home that the 35 year old turned up the heat. Birdies at the tenth and 12th were followed by a stunning finish which saw him end with four birdie threes in a row from the 15th.
“It's a great round because you finish with four birdies,” he said. “It's like you feel good with that. I was seven under coming in and looking at the scoreboard there were people on eight and nine under. I thought if I could get it to eight or nine it would be a good achievement. So it was very nice to be even better.”
For a while it looked like it would be a Tartan Twosome at the head of affairs as Montgomerie moved ominously from his share of sixth place at the start of the day into the joint lead after an outward half of 32 and further birdies at the tenth, 12th and 13th.
But errant drives at both the 15th and 16th found the rough from where both his approaches flew over the green to lead to consecutive bogey fives. It took the wind out of the 42 year old’s sails momentarily but he recovered admirably with a birdie three at the 17th to fire himself right back into contention.
“I had three fliers today and dropped three shots,” he said. “But I had seven birdies elsewhere and got myself into position and got myself into contention on Saturday night which was my goal at the start of the week, so I am doing okay.
“Simon Yates had a great score today and best of luck to him because that was super, I have just got to do something low tomorrow as well. I said 14 under would win and I am sticking to that and that means I need 65 tomorrow, five under, which is fine. I am quite capable of doing that.”
Sharing second place with Montgomerie, South African Kingston was also in fine form on his way to a third round 64 and, like Yates, he made no mistakes, carding four birdies and an eagle three at the 12th following his shot of the day, a two iron second shot which finished a mere five feet from the pin.
The 40 year old, who so nearly claimed his maiden European Tour title in the event 12 months ago, admitted he had felt good about this week as soon as he turned up at the course on Tuesday morning.
“I don’t know what it is about here, I just have a love affair with it by the looks of it,” he said. “I have always felt comfortable on the golf course and I always enjoy coming to Hong Kong, the weather always seems to be decent and the course is in terrific shape this year. It is an absolute joy.”
Completing the trio on nine under par was Erlandsson who continued his steady progress with his second consecutive 68, a round completed in some style with a curling 18 foot putt for birdie three on the 18th green.
“I was very nervous going out there but I got it done and had a nice finish on the back nine,” said the Swede, who finish of 67th on the 2005 European Tour Order of Merit was his best as a professional. “I’m looking forward to the final round because it’ll be fun tomorrow and that is where you want to be – out there playing for a title.”
The bunched nature of the event means that anyone within the top 20 has a realistic chance of winning the event – those in a share of 18th being only six shots adrift of Yates and four adrift of Montgomerie and Co.
One player perhaps a little far back on four under par is Robert-Jan Derksen but the Dutch golfer had his own reason to celebrate in the third round, thanks to his perfectly struck nine iron which aced the 144 yard 12th and which won him a solid gold bar worth $15,000.
Derksen’s was not the only perfect strike of the day, another hole in one being notched at the 214 yard fifth hole by Ted Oh with a four iron. Unfortunately for the Korean golfer, his solitary reward was a handshake from his playing partner Gary Emerson and the honour on the sixth tee.
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