Darren Clarke slipped into the driver’s seat at the BMW Asian Open after a sparkling five under par 67 gave him a one-shot lead and moved him into pole position for his first European Tour title for nearly five years.
The big Ulsterman fired five birdies against no bogeys at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club to edge ahead of overnight co-leader Robert-Jan Derksen of The Netherlands, who returned a 69.
Englishman Robert Dinwiddie, playing his rookie season after graduating from the Challenge Tour, produced the day’s best of 66 to charge into third place, two off the lead while Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang battled to a 69 to give himself a shot at the BMW Asian Open title on Sunday.
Chinese teenage amateur Hu Mu was the best placed local player in a share of fifth place after he holed his second shot for eagle on his way to a 71. Joint overnight leader Zhang Lian-wei endured a difficult 76 to fall out of contention while Liang Wen-chong settled for a 73.
Clarke, who is making his maiden visit to China, was in his element as he rolled in birdies on the second, sixth, tenth, 15th and 18th holes to take pole position heading into the final round.
“I played really well today,” said the Ryder Cup player. “I was very pleased with the way I hit the ball. For the most part I had the ball under control for the shots I was trying to hit.
“I am really looking forward to tomorrow. It has been a while. I was in contention a few times at the start of the season but it has been a while since I led and I am really looking forward to it and I just hope I can continue doing what I have been.
“I want to go out and play, play as well as I can, add the numbers up and hopefully it will be good enough.”
Clarke last won on The European Tour International Schedule when he captured the WGC – NEC Invitational although his last title was in the Mitsui Sumitomo VISA Taiheiyo Masters at the end of 2005.
“It is a really good golf course, a stern test,” continued Clarke. “You have to control your ball flight and shape of your shots to get it close and it is the type of course I enjoy.
“A lot of my friends have told me how good the course it was for a start and how good a job BMW do. They are one of the best sponsors on The European Tour with the other tournaments at Wentworth and Germany as well. People told me how good the course is but when you come to a new course it takes you a few days to learn where you can and can’t miss shots, where you can get away with things and that is part and parcel of tournament venues. Most of the places we go to I have been there before but this is new to me and yes I am learning the course a bit. That is not to say I will shoot 65 tomorrow – I would like to though.”
Derksen, a two-time winner on the European Tour but not since 2005, kept himself in the hunt with a five birdie round. The Dutchman said a bogey save on the par three 14th after he found water of the tee kept him in the tournament.
“That up and down from the dropping zone was important to keep myself going. That was a good safe for a four,” said the 34 year old.
“I had a bit of a difficult start. I didn’t hit too many fairways, not as much as I wanted to early on and then bogeyed the fifth. But after that I played very solid. I got it back together. I felt that it was important to keep myself in the last group for tomorrow and I’ve achieved that so that I can see what the others are doing. Hopefully I can play another good round tomorrow.”
Dinwiddie, whose highest finish to date was his joint sixth in Andalucia, is relishing the new experience of playing on The European Tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour following two wins last season and finds himself in contention for his maiden title.
“I’m just very happy,” said the 25 year old, who birdied six of his last ten holes. “I was steady for the first couple of rounds and then too shoot a really low one today to put myself in contention for tomorrow is great.
“I putted very, very well for those last ten holes and pretty much one putted every green. But obviously I hit the ball well to give myself those chances. I played nice steady golf and took all the opportunities I had.
“I am looking forward to the final round and looking forward to getting out there and having a shot at being at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day but there is another 18 holes to go so I will get myself focused tonight and try and do the same again tomorrow.”