Ryder Cup teammates Rory McIlroy and Peter Hanson remained ahead of the pack yesterday in tricky conditions at Lake Malaren Golf Club to set up a final round duel in the US$7 million BMW Masters.
Hanson, who led on 14-under par going into the third round of the flagship European Tour event in China, found a chilly overcast day with a shifting wind much harder for low scoring and followed his magnificent Friday round of 64 with a steady 70 to move to 16 under.
It enabled world No. 1 McIlroy, playing alongside Hanson in the final group, to pull within one shot with a three-under par 69 to leave him on 15 under for the tournament.
The Swede was clearly relishing his battle with McIlroy and said: “It’s just great also to play alongside Rory, and every chance you get to compete with the world No. 1 it is just a fantastic thing to do.”
McIlroy is two shots clear of South Africa’s George Coetzee in third and a further two shots back are a group of six players that includes the English pair of world no. 3 Luke Donald, who carded a four-under 68 and No. 5 Justin Rose (69).
McIlroy won at Lake Malaren last year when the tournament was an invitational and he would clearly like to triumph again now it has grown into one of the biggest prize money events on the European Tour.
“It would mean a lot if I could successfully defend here at Lake Malaren. It would be nice to win for a second time,” McIlroy said.
With a US$1.166 million cheque awaiting the winner, McIlroy also sees a chance to seize the European money list title to add to the US one he has almost certainly already secured with his wins in the US PGA and two FedEx Cup events.
“What also would be most pleasing is that I will come into these last few weeks of my year trying to wrap-up the Race to Dubai,” McIlroy said.
“So that would more pleasing than anything else as it would extend my lead over Justin [Rose] and Branden [Grace], so that when I do get to Dubai later next month I won’t have to do much,” he said.
However, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland has to get ahead of Hanson first, who was happy with his steady day’s work.
“The pins were a little bit more difficult today but I’m pleased as it was a good round of golf,” Hanson said.
“I feel myself very lucky to be in this position and hopefully I can stay ahead of him because it is going to be a tough one considering the way he is playing,” he said. “But I do need to step up a bit more because if I don’t I am going to have the world No. 1 snapping right at my heels and if I’m not careful he could be going past me.”
Nicolas Colsaerts, another Ryder Cup star, looked at one stage as if he was going to join McIlroy and Hanson in today’s final group, but he had a disastrous finish of two consecutive double bogeys at 16 and 17.
In a matter of minutes the big-hitting Belgian had tumbled from being right in the mix at 14 under par to being back in the chasing pack at 10-under par and in a tie for 10th place.