Lee Westwood (Getty Images)
Lee Westwood shot a sparkling 61 to join Louis Oosthuizen in a share of the lead after three rounds of the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shenzhen.
Playing his 41st WGC event – more than any other player – the Englishman has another chance to try and record a first victory in one after 11 birdies at Mission Hills brought him level with South African Oosthuizen on 18 under par.
“It does surprise me I've played more than anyone else,” said the 39 year old, who has three runner-up finishes at this level, most recently to Francesco Molinari in this event two years ago. “I didn't realise I was that old! I know I've played a lot but I’ve never won one.”
On a day when American Brandt Snedeker matched The European Tour’s lowest round with a 60 – he had a putt for a first-ever 59 on the final green – former Open Champion Oosthuizen managed only four birdies and two bogeys in a two under par 70.
That allowed the rest of the field to close in after the 30 year old started the day five shots clear; the same halfway margin he held at St Andrews in 2010 when he cantered to a seven shot victory.
Any thoughts of a repeat of that procession evaporated when he was caught by compatriot Ernie Els, who turned in a brilliant 31, birdied the 14th, but then after 50 holes without a bogey dropped three shots in two holes and eventually finished the day four behind in a tie for fourth after signing for a 69.
Oosthuizen had to wait four holes for his first birdie of the day, and followed it with a three-putt bogey at the fifth before a gain at the long seventh.
The Masters Tournament runner-up had further birdies at the par fives on the back nine – the 11th and 15th – but dropped a shot at the 12th in a round he described afterwards as “frustrating”.
He added: “Early I didn't play really well and then started to find a little bit of form on the back nine, but just didn't make any putts.
“Knowing all the birdies that were out there, you look at the leaderboard, but I'm still in a good position for going into tomorrow.
“I still gave myself birdie opportunities, just normal ones and the ones I hit really close I just didn't make. So the putter went cold on me today, but I still hit good putts which is very frustrating.”
World Number Four Westwood came charging through the field with an imperious display of approach play as he birdied five of his first seven holes before rolling in an eight footer at the ninth to turn in 30.
He drained a 30 footer for birdie at the 14th – playing partner Ian Poulter sunk his approach from a fairway bunker for eagle at the same hole – and continued to putt well as he added further gains at the 15th, 16th and 17th.
“As the week's gone on, and we've played it and walked it more, I started to sort of get a feel for the golf course more and sort of see the lower scores around it,” said Westwood.
“I played very solidly, got off to a nice start, birdied the first three holes and kept ticking over, birdieing the odd hole and finished strongly. I hit it good, hit it in the fairway, hit it close, and made a couple of 20 footers which has been missing.”
Two-time winner Phil Mickelson shot a 66 to sit third on 15 under, with compatriot Bill Haas, Els and Poulter a shot further back and Snedeker on 13 under after climbing a remarkable 31 places.