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Friday, 19 March 2010

Miguel Angel Jiménez, an aficionado of fast cars, fine wine and the odd cigar, is a Spaniard who knows how to live life to the full. David Howell, by contrast, is committed to 12 hour days and other sacrifices in his relentless quest to become the best golfer he can be. But whatever the contrasts in style, the contest for the BMW Championship 2006 – The Players’ Flagship at Wentworth Club has an irresistible appeal.

 

Jiménez describes the potential shoot-out as a “gentleman’s battle”, while the tabloid scribe looking for a snappy football headline insisted it was a day for two great Galacticos to slug it out head to head. The truth is somewhere in the middle – for it should be a truly inspiring final day to a wonderful Championship.

 

Going into ‘Super Sunday’, Howell leads the field by three shots with a 14 under par total of 202 following a third round of 69, while Jiménez deliver a rapier thrust with a 65 – the best of the day – to climb within striking distance of the halfway leader on 205. Neither will take it for granted that it is now a two horse race, for lying ready to ambush the leading pair on eight under par are the Englishmen Paul Casey and Simon Khan, who shot 69 and 70 respectively.

 

Howell and Jiménez  are two of the most gracious men in the game and deeply respectful of each other’s abilities. Jiménez insists Howell is a great golfer and a ‘super guy’. The Englishman batted back the compliment by describing his pony-tailed Spanish adversary as a ‘lovely guy and a great competitor’.

 

Out on the West Course today, however, there will be no such exchange of pleasantries until the final round is over and the BMW Championship title has been earmarked for England, Spain or – just possibly – France after Jean Van de Velde reeled off a 66 and his compatriot, Francois Delamontagne, joined him on six under par along with England’s Nick Dougherty and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.

 

Howell began the third round three strokes clear of Dougherty, who experienced a less than satisfactory day with a round of 74. A pair of birdies at the sixth and seventh sent a message of intent and although he dropped a shot at the short tenth, it was a short-lived glitch.

 

Despite the damp weather which made the course play every yard of its 7308 length, Howell stuck rigidly to his game plan and birdied the 17th to 18th at a time when the resolute Spaniard had found a hot putter and used it to great effect with seven birdies and no dropped shots.

 

If Howell was concerned that his lead had been trimmed to one shot, it didn’t show. That pair of birdies to close his round simply confirmed that this is a young man riding a wave of confidence borne from winning last year’s BMW International Open in Munich and the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai soon afterwards.

 

Howell could move into the world's top ten for the first time in his life if he triumphs and he will certainly clinch his second Ryder Cup appearance. He said: "A 69 was a good effort in the conditions but Miguel has obviously played fantastically well to shoot 65.

"If I shoot 66 now I can take it out of most people's hands, but if Miguel plays well then I'll have to as well. But I'm in a strong position - there's a fair chance it's between the two of us. I fancied it wouldn't be as plain sailing as yesterday and it wasn't, but I managed to stay patient."

On his ascent of the World Ranking, Howell added: "When I turned pro my hopes were just to play golf for a living. My mates were turning, so I thought I would. I remember being delighted making the cut at the tour school and knew I could play the Challenge Tour. I thought that was a fantastic achievement - and obviously things have gone slightly better!"

Out in 31, 42 year old Jiménez set off in pursuit of Howell and added further birdies on the 11th and 16th and even with the rain at its hardest his pitch to the last skidded to a halt just a foot from the flag. It was the shot of a magician and, temporarily at least, reduced Howell’s lead to just one.

"It rains so little in Malaga that when the clouds are coming I put the clubs away," he said through a cloud of cigar smoke. "But I've had so many years playing on Tour and you have to adapt to playing in all conditions. It wasn't windy - that's worse - and it was only raining hard on the last.

"It will be a gentlemens’ battle tomorrow. David is a great player, there's no doubt, and a nice guy. A super guy."

Jiménez also knows a thing or two about BMWs, as his trophy collection already includes the BMW Asian Open and the BMW International Open during a glorious 2004 season on The European Tour. Now he aims to make a bold showing in his attempt to become the first player to capture all three BMW titles on the Tour’s International Schedule.

 

Casey, who has contended with impressive regularity over the past three weeks in The Quinn Direct British Masters, the Nissan Irish Open, and now the BMW Championship, kept up the good work with a 69 which included only one error at the first hole.

 

Defending champion Angel Cabera looks unlikely to be transporting the familiar BMW Championship trophy back to South America for the second successive year. A round of 75 leaves the 2005 winner ten strokes behind Howell. But, then again, Paul Lawrie won The Open in 1999 from such a position. Nothing is ever certain until the final putts drops, and by nightfall, we will all know who takes home the spoils.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1HOWELL, DavidENG18-17
2KHAN, SimonENG18-12
3JIMÉNEZ, Miguel AngelESP18-11
4RUMFORD, BrettAUS18-9
5BLAND, RichardENG18-8
T6ORR, GarySCO18-7
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