Simon Yates produced fireworks at the UBS Hong Kong Open on Saturday to put himself one round away from glory.
The Scot fired a course-record 61 – including birdies on the closing four holes – to take a two-shot lead into the final round at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
Yates’ spectacular effort left him 11 under for the tournament – but breathing down his neck is one of the giants of the game, compatriot Colin Montgomerie, who carded a second successive 66 to reach nine under.
Level with Montgomerie are South Africa’s James Kingston – joint runner-up at Fanling a year ago – who raced into contention with a 64, and Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson, who returned a 68.
With just four strokes separating the top 14 players, fans can look forward to one of the most exciting finishes in the tournament’s long and illustrious history.
“It was very nice to finish with four birdies,” said Yates, an Asian Tour regular based in Bangkok. “I was seven under coming in and looking at the scoreboard there were people on eight and nine under, so I thought if I could get it to eight or nine it would be a good achievement. Those four birdies make it a great round.
“It was perfect conditions, just a tiny breeze of three to four miles per hour. The pins were tough, some of them, but I hit good shots and I gave myself birdie opportunities.”
Asked about his strategy for the final round, Yates said: “Just go out and play golf and try to enjoy it. Hopefully I can play nicely.”
Montgomerie fired seven birdies but his progress was halted by bogeys on the ninth, 15th and 16th holes.
“I got myself into contention, so I’m doing OK,” he said. “I came back after the mistake at the ninth and birdied the 10th and then birdied the 12th and 13th, which was good, but then I was one over from there on in. Even so, I’m quite happy with things.
“Simon Yates had a great score today and best of luck to him because that was super. I’ve just got to do something low tomorrow as well. The scoring seems to be low. I said 14 under will win and I am sticking to that, so that means I need 65 tomorrow, five under, which is fine, I’m quite capable of doing that, so we will see how we go tomorrow.”
Kingston revived memories of his brilliant third-round 62 in 2004 with another outstanding effort. “I just have a love affair with Fanling, by the looks of it,” he said.
“I have always felt comfortable on the golf course and I always enjoy coming to Hong Kong. The weather always seems to be decent and the course is in terrific shape this year, it is an absolute joy.
“I got off to a real shaky start today and had to make one or two saves. I think players don’t always understand how important it is to make a save because it keeps the momentum going and if you can make a couple of good shots, the momentum seems to kick in and snowball from there.
“I’m almost disappointed to have only shot two under on the front nine but I got it going on the back nine again, hit a nice couple of shots and it is just nice to be in that position.”
Of the tournament’s big guns, Korea’s KJ Choi carded an impressive 64 to get back into contention at seven under but Miguel Angel Jimenez’s hopes of retaining his title disappeared with a one-over 71 that left him eight shots off the pace.