Saturday, 01 July 2006

(Reuters) - Michael Campbell took over the Open de France ALSTOM lead, despite hitting out of bounds twice and an extraordinary finale to his third round. A 25ft birdie putt on the last edged Campbell a stroke in front of the leader after two days, England's John Bickerton.

The New Zealander's three under par 68 for a ten under par 203 gives him a chance to earn his first win of the year and a ninth European Tour title.

Campbell hit out of bounds on the seventh to double bogey but stunning golf took him three shots clear by the 17th tee.

Then the New Zealander hit out of bounds again, then crashed a ball into exhibition tents with his next shot off the tee.

His ball ricocheted into and back out of the tents and was helped back into bounds by an unwitting woman spectator, who dribbled it soccer fashion.

Campbell had to hit a provisional ball in case the spectator had knowingly interfered with play. European Tour Senior Referee Andy McFee decided she had not and allowed Campbell's second ball to be the one in play. After a free drop to clear a stand, he made triple bogey at the 17th.

"With all the kerfuffle that went on it seemed to take a lifetime to get it all sorted out," said Campbell. "I was glad to put it behind me, though, and make the birdie on the last.

"I'm disappointed I didn't run away with it, but I had eight birdies apart from the couple of loose shots and I'm playing some wonderful golf otherwise."

McFee explained the situation: "Having looked at the tape, the ball was out of bounds, it hit the tent and it was then bouncing back towards the golf course. It then hit this lady on the knee. That clearly was not deliberate. Then it moves back towards the tents which is going further out of bounds. It hits the tents again and then it is rolling back across the path towards the golf course.

"At this point there is a chance that ball might have rolled back in bounds of its own valition without this lady’s intervention but she made absolutely sure of that as not once but twice with a bit of deft foot work, the ball comes back across the line and is in bounds. There is no question that the ball was deflected by an outside agency but at the point where it was deflected I think the ball was still moving back towards the golf course.

"Therefore equity applies to the player and without the intervention it could have rolled back and Michael has to play the ball as it lies. That was three off the tee. He then took relief from the grandstand and then it was a seven."

Bickerton conceded top place by dint of a bogey at the 14th although the Englishman is still in with a good chance of the first prize that would earn him automatic exemption for The Open Championship and a place in Europe's Ryder Cup table top 10. 

Welshman Bradley Dredge and Dane Anders Hansen share third place, three shots off the lead.

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