Austria’s Markus Brier moved a step closer to his first victory outside his home country after birdieing the last three holes at Shanghai Silport Golf Club to take a one stroke lead into the final round of the Volvo China Open.
Brier shot a four under par 67 to lie on six under 207 and leads Australian Scott Hend with South African Andrew Mclardy a further stroke back after matching Brier’s low round of the day. Another South African Richard Sterne, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin are a further shot behind.
Brier won his maiden European Tour title last year when he captured the BA-CA Golf Open presented by Telekom Austria at his home course of Fontana Golf Club in Viennna. He had also won the same title twice when it formed part of the Challenge Tour. Now he is in pole position to win his first international title.
“The first win is pretty special, especially at home,” said Brier. “And a win here would be very, very nice and would be my first win abroad. I won twice on the Challenge Tour at home, last year at home, so I am still going for my first win abroad.”
Brier, like so many players, bogeyed the tough opening hole but birdies on the third and eighth took him to the turn in one under par. Bogeys on the tenth and 12th were countered by birdies on the 11th and 13th holes before his grandstand finish of three birdies to close, all three putts coming from within six feet.
“With the 12th, I have bogeyed it all three days so far but from then on I feel comfortable with the tee shots and if you hit good tee shots it is short irons and wedges in,” he said. “I am happy with my wedges at the moment so the closing holes suit my game. You have to hit it on the fairway. I missed it on the tenth and 12th hole and was just in the thick stuff. Tomorrow that will be the key, hit the fairway and hopefully have as strong a finish as today. Like last year in Fontana I had a good finish and I hope I can do the same.”
Hend managed to dodge a bullet when took three drives off the ninth tee and still walked away with only a bogey five when it could have been much worse. His first went way right and second followed suit prompting a third provisional. As it turned out his second finished in the front door of the clubhouse and he was able to take relief, and from there got down in two for his five.
Three birdies coming home after that drama with only one dropped shot completed a round of 70 and put him in the final group. He intends to prepare for the final round with a game of poker, without any beers though.
McLardy is eyeing a big pay day, mainly to finance an intended break from the game in a few weeks with the impending birth of his first child. His wife, Toni, is due to give birth in five weeks and having originally planned to miss the China events, decided he needed to come and try and earn some money so he could enjoy two months off after the birth.
It looks a wise decision on what is his first visit to mainland China. His four under par 67 puts him right in contention as he looks to go one better than his runners-up finish in the Joburg Open at the start of the year.
“I came here off three missed cuts so wasn’t playing too well,” he said. “It is nice to get some form back. There was a tournament back home I threw away and that hurt the confidence a bit. It is nice to be back in contention.”
Jacquelin, who had led from the start and took a two stroke lead into the third round, suffered on a day in which the wind switched direction once again with four bogeys and no birdies to drop back into a tie for third after a 75. Sterne shot a 69 to join him on three under par 210 with McDowell completing the group three shots off the lead.
McDowell has certainly been consistent with three rounds of 70 as he looks to add the Volvo China Open to the Volvo Scandinavian Masters title he won in 2002.
“Three shots back in the last round,” he said. “I hope it gets tough and all I’m trying to do is get in touch with the leaders and I’m going to thereabouts anyway.”