Saturday, 16 December 2006

(Reuters) - Trevor Immelman celebrated his 27th birthday in style by carding a course record 63 to move into a three shot lead after the third round of the South African Airways Open.

South African Immelman, winner of this title in 2003 and 2004, moved to 20 under 196, well clear of countryman Ernie Els, who returned a round of 66 to move to 17 under at the Humewood Golf Course.

Sweden's Patrik Sjöland, who set the previous course record 64 to assume the second round lead, was five shots behind on 15 under after carding a 69.

England’s Andrew Raitt (68) and South Africa's Retief Goosen (68) shared fourth place on 13 under par 203.

Immelman, a three time winner on The European Tour International Schedule and the 2006 US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, displayed the kind of form that took him to his maiden title in America this season with nine birdies in a bogey-free round.

He and Els set the tone for a potentially thrilling final round in front of huge home galleries as they traded birdies throughout the day.

Els started his round with consecutive birdies while Immelman made four consecutive pars.

But on the par four fifth Immelman made his first birdie, which he followed with further birdies on the par three sixth and the par five seventh for an outward nine of 32.

He birdied the par four tenth and the par five 11th and completed his round with four straight birdies from the 15th.

“Any time you can shoot a good round in Ernie’s presence is a fantastic feeling,” Immelman said.

“My ball striking was not too good yesterday and I went on the range and had a long practice session - I smoothed a few things out.

“I called Lead (coach David Leadbetter) late last night and he gave me some advice.

“Today I kept my drives in play and kept my irons on the right side of the flags, which enabled me to make aggressive putts.

“For a third day in a row my putter was really good. I managed to keep my focus really well and I didn’t look at the scoreboard until the 18th tee.”

Els, who is seeking his first title of the year to avoid a winless season for the first time since 1991, turned in 32 but slipped back after a bogey on the par five 11th.

He responded in style with a birdie three on the 13th and an eagle three on the 15th after a stunning five wood approach to the green. He added a further birdie on the par four 16th.

“My wedges were terrible today, that was just ridiculous,” Els said. “But hats off to Trevor today; 63 is a great score. I know I shot 66 but it feels like I shot 75 compared to the way Trevor played.”

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