Spain’s José Manuel Lara remains on course for his maiden European Tour title as he takes a two stroke lead over Filipino rookie, Juvic Pagunsan, into the final round of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
Lara, four times a runner-up on The European Tour, will be hoping to shed his bridesmaid tag as he looks to emulate fellow Spaniards José Maria Olazábal and Miguel Angel Jiménez in lifting the UBS Hong Kong Open trophy. A flawless four under par 66 at Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling took Lara, who has led from the outset, to 14 under par 196 and two clear of those giving chase.
Jiménez is one of the players out to stop Lara’s relentless march to the title after a four under par 66 but lies five shots back on nine under par alongside Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, twice an Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, who shot 67.
Gregory Bourdy, who played alongside Lara, mixed four bogeys with five birdies in a round of 69 to lie at ten under par 200 with Pagunsan lying at 12 under par after a third round 66.
“At the moment I feel comfortable at the top,” said Lara. “I am playing well, hitting the ball well and the putter is working.
“I have led the last two days and feel very well. I will try and do the same job as I have done so far.”
The Spanish contingent on The European Tour have always enjoyed a close relationship and the week in Hong Kong is no exception. Despite their rivalry on the course, Jiménez and Lara enjoyed a practice round together, dined together and will no doubt share a fine Rioja tonight.
“To play well you need to have some good spirits,” quipped Jiménez.
For Lara’s part he has already benefited from advice from his more experienced Jiménez, a winner of 13 European Tour titles.
“It is good to play with a player like Miguel,” said Lara. “He has a lot of experience and knows the course as he has won before. He gave me some tips on the greens and that has helped me a lot.”
Jiménez acknowledges Lara deserves to win a tournament but will still be trying his hardest to stop him this week.
“He is playing very well. He is ready to win a tournament. He has been at the top there so many times and one of these days he will win and maybe it will be this week. But I will try and push him hard tomorrow.”
Pagunsan is proving the surprise package but after a four under par 66, he lies at 12 under par and Lara’s closest challenger. Victory in the event co-sanctioned by The European Tour and the Asian Tour would complete an Asian hat-trick of victories following those of Jeev Milkha Singh and Yang Yong-eun.
The Filipino turned professional this year after an impressive amateur career during which he won the amateur titles of the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, all in 2005. Since earning his Asian Tour card through the qualifying school, Pagunsan has made an immediate impact in the paid ranks, winning The Country Club Invitational in the Philippines by defeating the legendary Frankie Minoza. Now he has a chance of victory on a far bigger stage.
“I had an edgy start but it was a nice comeback and good round today,” he said “I was going strong on the back nine and managed four birdies in a row from the 11th which was nice.”
Bourdy lies two shots further back at ten under par and knows he must keep his mistakes to a minimum if he is to take the title.
“Today I made too many bogeys, especially the three on the front nine and made too many mistakes but made five birdies the same as yesterday and Thursday,” said the Frenchman. “I just have to eliminate the mistakes and keep on making birdies and see what happens tomorrow.”
|1||LARA, José Manuel||ESP||18||-15|
|T3||SINGH, Jeev Milkha||IND||18||-12|
|T6||JIMÉNEZ, Miguel Angel||ESP||18||-11|