Justin Rose gave himself the ideal opportunity to claim his first European Tour title in over four years when a fine 68 at Huntingdale Golf Club in Melbourne moved the 26 year old Englishman into a two shot lead going into the final round of the MasterCard Masters.
Rose, aiming to become the first sponsor’s invitation to win on The European Tour since American Kevin Stadler in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia in February, moved to 13 under par for the tournament, two clear of the surprise leader of the first two rounds, Australian amateur Aaron Pike, his fellow countryman Greg Chalmers and Rose’s fellow European Tour Member Raphaël Jacquelin of France.
An eagle three on the long 14th hole helped Rose to the top of the leaderboard, firing a sensational two iron second shot from 275 yards to within two feet of the hole from where he tapped in.
The Englishman had been steady until then, accounting for an early bogey with birdies on three of the par fives - the sixth, seventh and tenth holes while a late bogey at the 17th - a hole he dropped a shot on during Thursday's opening round of 69 - gave the chasing pack hope.
“That shot on the 14th really was my shot of the day, my shot of the week, maybe even my shot of the year,” said Rose. “I usually have a five wood but this week went for the two iron and I hit a raking draw and it came off perfectly.
“There are a lot of hungry guys behind me on 11 under and I thought at the start of this week that 15 under would have a chance of winning. There are still plenty of guys who can do that, so I'll need to play well still.”
Frenchman Jacquelin, looking for his second European Tour title to add to his maiden success in the 2005 Open de Madrid, carded a 67 in the cool, overcast conditions while Western Australian Chalmers signed for a 68.
Fellow Australian Pike - the overnight leader who was seeking to become the only amateur to win the gold jacket - started his round poorly. The 21 year old began the day with a two stroke lead but made a double-bogey at the first following a wayward drive, before bogeying at the second.
However playing partner Rose paid tribute to the way the young and relatively inexperienced player reacted to the setback and battled on. “He putted confidently today and it could have been a couple better, but it was a great way for him to finish,” he said.
Nearest challengers to the leading quartet were the 2002 champion Peter Lonard of Australia (67), Spain’s Carl Suneson (69), who last week battled the six rounds at San Roque to regain his playing privileges at the Qualifying School – Final Stage, and Ryder Cup star Paul Casey, who fired himself back into contention for the title with an excellent 67.
Casey, who admitted his original idea of coming to Australia was to help him wind down after a hectic season, had a rollercoaster ride after opening his third round with a birdie.
He bogeyed the short par four second and the tough par three fifth but he bounced back by eagling the sixth when he knocked a three iron to 12 feet, before birdies at the ninth, tenth and 11th moved him into striking distance of the lead.
He then birdied the 13th and 14th but a late bogey at the 17th when a poor swing on his approach shot resulted in his ball winding up in a devilish greenside trap, checked his charge.
“The first two days here were very slack,” he admitted. “On the first day, my brain was not really in gear, I trundled through the second round and made the cut, then for some reason today it caught fire there in the middle of the round.
“I am going to try very hard tomorrow and see what happens. If I play like I did today it will be enjoyable, and hopefully put me near the top."
Leader Rose, however, had different views on his trip to Australia, the 26 year old keen to use a good performance - and potential victory - as a springboard for bigger things.
“I certainly came in motivated to do well, relatively fresh still. I sit here 69th in the world and I can't be complacent. It's much easier when you are 15th in the world to look forward to the end of the season. For me it's an opportunity to move up higher in the world rankings and take another step in the right direction.”