Tom Lehman will take a two stroke advantage over David Frost into the final round of the MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius after recovering from a scare around the turn to card a four under par 68.
The 1996 Open Champion had gone 26 holes without dropping a shot at Constance Belle Mare Plage before back-to-back bogeys on the ninth and tenth holes threatened to derail his bid for a victory on his debut in a regular European Senior Tour event.
However, after a steadying par on the 11th hole the 2006 United States Ryder Cup Captain roared back with a hat-trick of birdies on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes.
That run restored his three stroke overnight lead but South African Frost birdied the last hole, compared to Lehman’s par, to shave a shot off the American’s advantage following a 67.
Lehman is 11 under par for the Senior Tour’s season finale but will face some stiff competition from Frost, who won the Mauritius Commercial Bank Open at the same venue 12 months ago.
“I was disappointed I didn’t birdie the last hole,” said Lehman. “Frosty is playing pretty well but I am too. I’m not happy about birdieing 18 but I’m happy at where I’m at.
“I got unlucky on the ninth when I had a good tee shot but a brutal lie. I hit it over the green then made a dumb club selection on the tenth and made a bogey from 110 yards there. So there’s two holes in a row with sand wedges in my hand where I made bogey.
“I was pretty annoyed but then I got the thing going in the right direction. That’s what happens when you are mad at yourself – you go out and make some birdies.
“My goal was to play the last seven holes four under par and I did it in three. But I feel good going into tomorrow.”
Frost dropped his only shot of the day on the ninth hole and remains firmly in contention for a unique Senior Tour double of winning two events at the same venue in the same season.
“We both played good golf all the way round and both made a simple mistake on the ninth,” said Frost. “Tom then looked like making four on the last and I looked like making five after I decided to lay up, so he would have had a four shot lead. Instead I made birdie and he didn’t so the momentum goes the other way but there are 18 holes to go. It’s nice to have it a bit closer and tomorrow should be fun.”
It looks like being a two-horse race for the title between Lehman and Frost, with Englishman Gary Wolstenholme six shots off the pace in third position following a bogey-free 69.
While US Champions Tour Number One Lehman continued his fine form, it was also a good day for the leading two players on the Senior Tour Order of Merit, as Peter Fowler and Barry Lane produced much improved performances to ensure the battle for the John Jacobs Trophy goes right to the wire.
Both players had struggled in their opening rounds but carded four under par second rounds of 68 to move up the leaderboard, setting up an intriguing final day of the 2011 season.
Australian Fowler has a €25,569 over Lane in the Order of Merit and is currently two shots ahead of the Englishman in a share of sixth position on three under par.
“I worked on a few things after my round yesterday and got things organised and the thought processes working,” said Fowler. “It was good today, especially not to drop any shots.
“I’ve been pleased with my consistency this year and it would be great to finish this event well too. I’ve had a lot of rounds with no bogeys and this was another.”
Lane had struggled with heat exhaustion during the opening round but after investing in a new outfit to help him keep cooler, the former Ryder Cup player posted a four under par 68 despite finding the water on the ninth.
“I was so bad yesterday I thought I was going to be sick on the 17th when I sipped some water so I bought a cotton outfit and a new hat and wore a wet towel round my neck to keep cool,” said Lane.
“I felt much better today and that round means I still have a chance. If I can shoot 63 tomorrow you never know.”