Brett Rumford (Getty Images)
Nicolas Colsaerts kept his hopes of defending the Volvo World Match Play Championship alive as Brett Rumford's bid to join Sir Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros in the record books remained on course in Bulgaria.
After back-to-back wins at the Ballantine's Championship and Volvo China Open two weeks ago, Rumford is looking to become only the third man in European Tour history to win three consecutive events this week at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort.
Only Faldo in 1983 and the late Ballesteros three years later have achieved the remarkable feat, but Rumford was not looking fazed by the size of his task as reached the last 16 with a game to spare.
The 35 year old Australian was eight under par in the 15 holes it took to beat Jamie Donaldson 5 and 3, with a second defeat for Donaldson meaning Rumford and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño were assured of advancing from their group before meeting this afternoon.
"I'm really happy," Rumford said. "Jamie got off to a bad start and I capitalised on that and was three up after four holes. I know Jamie fought hard yesterday afternoon and I wanted to try to conserve as much energy as I could so it was nice to close it out sooner rather than later.
"Seve was an inspiration to all European Tour players. He was a great player and fierce in match play which is what you need. It would be an honour to match his achievement."
Colsaerts lost to Branden Grace yesterday but beat Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat 3 and 2 this morning to at least guarantee himself a play-off, something he needed last year as well after a draw and a defeat in his two group matches.
A win for Grace against Aphibarnrat would see him top the group and also seal Colsaerts' place in the last 16, while a win for Aphibarnrat would mean a three-way play-off with all three players on two points each.
Another play-off was a possibility in the Mark McCormack group, where Scott Jamieson had beaten Carl Pettersson by one hole to join the Swede on two points and make the game between Jamieson and Thorbjørn Olesen decisive.
Thongchai Jaidee, who beat Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter yesterday, secured his place in the next round with victory on the 18th against Thomas Aiken, with that group now coming down to Poulter versus Aiken.
Poulter's Medinah team-mate Francesco Molinari moved into Saturday's knockout stages courtesy of his second win of the week, a 4 and 3 success against Felipe Aguilar of Chile who now faces Henrik Stenson to decide their fate, while Richard Sterne also advanced by adding a 5 and 4 success over former US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy.
The Seve Ballesteros group could also see a play-off after Chris Wood bounced back from his defeat to Graeme McDowell yesterday to defeat Stephen Gallacher 2 and 1, leaving Gallacher needing to beat McDowell this afternoon.
Ireland's Shane Lowry also needs to beat Peter Hanson to get into a play-off with the Swede and George Coetzee after losing 3 and 2 to Coetzee.
As the final round of group matches began, Olesen’s chances of progressing took a major hit as he turned three down against Jamieson.
Fernandez-Castaño was two up through nine against Rumford in the contest to decide the winner of the Gary Player bracket, while Stenson was one up on Aguilar in the shoot-out to join Francesco Molinari in progressing from the Greg Norman section.
Aphibarnrat led by the same margin against Grace in a contest the Thai had to win, as did Lowry in his all-or-nothing game with Peter Hanson.
Ogilvy and Bo Van Pelt were all square through six but former winner Poulter was facing the prospect of an early exit as Aiken won the first two holes.