Brett Rumford (Getty Images)
Brett Rumford takes a one shot lead into the final round of the Volvo China Open as he bids to become the first back-to-back winner on The European Tour for over a year.
A hat-trick of birdies from the sixth saw the Australian catch overnight leader Mikko Ilonen, and the Finn bogeyed the last after driving into the water at a blustery Binhai Lake Golf Club to hand Rumford the lead.
The 35 year old, who eagled the first play-off hole to win the Ballantine’s Championship last weekend, produced some outstanding up-and-downs on the back nine to sign for a bogey-free three under par 69 and 12 under total.
All his scoring came in a burst before the turn as Rumford pitched to within a foot at the par five sixth, knocked a stunning approach to two feet at the seventh, and drained a ten footer at the eighth for an outward 33.
“That was a tough day,” said Rumford. “I really started to feel things on the back nine. I did really well to hang in nicely with some tired golf swings, I mentally stayed with it – physically not so much but mentally I hung in there.
“The wind was really starting to dry things out so you’ve got to be very precise.”
Ilonen started the day three clear, but the 33 year old pulled a three foot par putt at the first and saw his lead diminish to one when Kiradech Aphibarnrat birdied the long second.
Ilonen – who won both his European Tour titles back in 2007 – responded with a gain of his own at the second, but at the sixth overshot the green with his third shot and bogeyed.
He retrieved that shot with a ten foot birdie at the seventh, but after ten straight pars failed to recover from his mistake off the tee at the par five 18th and signed for a 73.
Ilonen, who has already finished ninth in Qatar and second in Morocco this season, is still confident of landing a result tomorrow – although admits Rumford will be had to dislodge.
“It was a good fight out there,” he said. “His short game today was incredible, and his confidence is obviously very high, especially on the greens, so I’m going to have to play very well to beat him tomorrow.
“It’s good to be in the final group tomorrow. In Morocco earlier in the season, I had a bad round on the Saturday and dropped out of the last group. So I’m pleased with the way I ground out a score today, even though I didn’t maybe play my best golf.”
Spain’s Pablo Larrazábal briefly joined the leaders with a sensational run of four straight birdies from the tenth, but missed a couple of short par putts to post a 69 that leaves him two shots back in third.
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat had four birdies and four bogeys in a level par 72 to sit fourth on nine under.
Defending champion Branden Grace – ironically the last player to win two weeks running on the European Tour in his native South Africa last January – is nine back after a third round 72.