Leader Lee boosts chances of maiden title

1/18/2014 1:49:00 PM
Craig Lee  (Getty Images)
Craig Lee (Getty Images)
Scotland’s Craig Lee will take a two shot lead into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship as he chases a maiden European Tour title.

Twice a runner-up, most recently to Thomas Björn in Switzerland last year, the 36 year old carded a third round 69 to reach 12 under for the week at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

That was two ahead of India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar and American Phil Mickelson – the latter surging through the field with a nine under par 63 early in the day.

Lee is relishing the chance to take on some of the world's biggest names.

"It's exciting," said Lee, who has been reaping the benefits of an artificial putting green installed in his front garden by his brother. 

"The quality of the players behind me is nothing I have been used to before.

"I can't control what they are going to do, I just have to go out and play the best I can. I can look back on last year when Jamie Donaldson won (holding off the likes of Justin Rose) and say it's possible and fairytales do happen."

Lee had initially looked to have just a one shot lead over Rory McIlroy, but the Northern Irishman was penalised two shots after his round when it emerged that he had taken an incorrect drop on the second hole of his 68, which was revised to a score of 70.

The World Number Seven was told before he signed his card of a possible infraction by Dave Renwick, caddie to his playing partner Ricardo Gonzalez.

Renwick felt McIlroy had not taken full relief from a spectator crossing on the second hole and when video evidence proved inconclusive, McIlroy and European Tour Chief Referee John Paramor headed back to the par five to examine the area in question.

It was then determined that McIlroy's left foot had been touching the white line denoting the crossing and a two shot penalty was applied.

McIlroy said: "I hit my second shot on the second into the left rough but on the spectator crosswalk. I took a drop and played my shot but I did not notice my left foot was still on the line and you need to take full relief.

"We went out to see it again and see my divot and it was clear I could not have played my shot with my feet anywhere else. It's unfortunate. If anything it was a disadvantage because I dropped it in a bad lie and did not make birdie.

"I have to try to make up the shots as early as possible tomorrow. It gives me a bit of extra motivation."

Mickelson made the halfway cut with just one shot to spare after rounds of 73 and 70, but insisted on Friday he had "a good, low round in me tomorrow" and was as good as his word, carding nine birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.

His last birdie on the 18th came in typical Mickelson fashion, the Open Champion attempting to reach the green in two from 230 yards away in a fairway bunker, only to hit a terrible shot into a sandy waste area, play a superb low pitch to 30 feet and hole the putt.

"It was not a smart decision out of the bunker to go for the green, but I don't know, that's just what I do," joked Mickelson, who finished ten under par to share second place with Bhullar.

"Bones (his caddie Jim Mackay) did not like the decision and I don't blame him. It wasn't probably my smartest play.

"I hit a terrible shot but because it was sitting on a fairly hard, packed lie, I was able to go in steep and keep it low underneath the trees and I had plenty of green to work with.

"I will still be back a few shots, I anticipate, heading into tomorrow's round but I love the fact that I'm in contention and I have an opportunity (to win) here in the first week of the year.

"What I like is that it feels better each day. The first day, I felt terrible. The second day, half of it started to come around and today it started to feel pretty good and hopefully I'll be able to build on it again tomorrow."

Like Lee, Bhullar is chasing a maiden European Tour title, although the 25 year old has five victories to his name on the Asian Tour.

“Ever since I've arrived here, I've been striking the ball really good,” he said. “I knew that I could go low, and thankfully today was one of my lucky days. 

“I had a lot of good breaks, putted really well and gave myself a lot of opportunities of making birdies and I guess at the end of the day I'm quite happy with 66.

“Last year I got paired up with a lot of the big names in the world and it was quite good. You get to learn a lot of new stuff about yourself, about the game, and I think it will be one of those enjoyable Sundays.”