Poulter the man to beat in Hong Kong

Ian Poulter will take some stopping if he is to be denied lifting the UBS Hong Kong Open trophy on Sunday.

Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter produced a barnstorming finish for a six-under-par 64 to open up a two-shot lead after the third round of the $2.5 million UBS Hong Kong Open on Saturday.

The flamboyant Englishman, who carded a blistering 60 on Friday, sank putts of 30 feet on the 17th and 18th holes for a 19-under-par 191 total and gave himself a cushion from second-placed Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who shot the day’s best of 63 at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

Simon Dyson of England, winner of the Hong Kong Open in 2000, was a further shot back following a 65 while Northern Ireland’s star Rory McIlroy, twice a runner-up here, birdied his last for a 66 to tie for fourth place with Korean-born American Anthony Kang, who carded a 67 in the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

Asia’s best placed golfer was India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, who returned a bogey-free 66 but is five shots behind the leader in tied sixth place with New Zealand’s Mark Brown, the first round leader. Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, the reigning Asian Tour number one, is equal 11th after a 68.

Poulter is looking forward to a slugfest with Ryder Cup teammates McDowell, the US Open champion, and McIlroy.

“Earlier this week, we were having a little bit of banter and I told Graeme I was going to win this week. And then Rory walked in and they had a bit of banter because Graeme had just gone a place in front of Rory in the World Rankings, so there’s been some banter between those two and obviously me telling off Graeme,” said Poulter, the world number 14.

“It’s going to be a great day tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it. We had some fun certainly over the last few weeks. You know, Graeme’s in good form, I’m in good form, Rory is playing well, Simon Dyson is up there, so this golf course is going to give up a low score tomorrow. It should be good fun.”

Poulter’s form has been irrepressible in Hong Kong. He is bogey-free after 54 holes and after flirting with the magical 59 in the second round, the nine-time European Tour winner enjoyed the best of starts with a birdie on the second and eagle on the third.

But he parred the next nine holes, birdied the 13th before producing a grandstand finish to put himself in pole position to win a first UBS Hong Kong Open title. “Silly things start going through your mind after yesterday’s round, and I kind of froze over the hole for about eight holes. It was nice to make an easy two putt birdie on 13 and a little bit of patience on the last two holes to roll two 30 foot putts in,” said Poulter.

World number nine McDowell, who holed the winning putt for Europe to win the Ryder Cup, was delighted with his round, especially the eagle at the par four 10th hole where he drove the green from the forward tees.

“I hit a really good driver there to about 20 feet. That kind of kick started my back nine really. I birdied 13, 14 and 15. And yeah, it was a good back nine, obviously five under par, and it was definitely that eagle on 10 got me off and running,” said the Ulsterman, who is currently second on the Race to Dubai rankings.

“I played great this week, every round, I gave myself tons and tons of chances. Probably the best I’ve played in a few months, actually, this week.”

Dyson, Asia’s number one in his rookie year 10 years ago, was happy to lie three back. “I don’t really like leading going into the last day. All of my tournaments I’ve won, I’ve always been a shot or two behind. I’m in a nice position,” he said.

The 21-year-old McIlroy, ranked 10th in the world, erased Friday’s poor finish where he had a double bogey when he birdied the challenging 18th hole. “Definitely a nicer way to finish the round,” he smiled.

“I didn’t quite have it as well as I had it on Thursday and Friday, but you know, 66 is still a decent score. I need to go out tomorrow and try and put a low one on the board and see what happens.”

Singh, a two-time Asian Tour number one, must have wished his putter was finding its range after hitting 17 out of 18 greens in regulation. “Played really solid and I think the one green I missed, I used the putter there too. I’m pretty happy with my ball striking. Thought I would make a lot of birdies on the back nine because that’s the scoring nine, but I guess I made it up on front nine,” said the Indian.