Darren Clarke is on course to grab his first win since the 2011 Open Championship after a four-under-par 68 gave him a share of the lead with China’s Liang Wenchong (70) in the OneAsia Tour’s U.S. $1 million Nanshan China Masters.
The pair are tied on eight under par at Nanshan International Golf Club, two clear of Australian Scott Strange (69), Korea’s Kwon Sung-yeol (67) and young China star Zhang Xinjun (72).
South African Charl Schwartzel (68), the 2011 Masters champion, is a shot further back alongside Australian Terry Pilkadaris (70) and New Zealander Gareth Paddison (73).
Clarke, 45, has not won since beating Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson by a stroke to claim his first Major at Sandwich and insists that he will feel the pressure on Sunday.
“There is pressure in any event, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Open Championship or here at the Nanshan China Masters,” he said after starting the day two shots behind overnight leaders Liang, Zhang and Paddison.
“I’ve practised really hard these last couple of years since I’ve won the Open and just not been able to get the scores. Obviously I’d be delighted to win tomorrow, but there’s 18 holes of golf to go and a lot of talent there or thereabouts at the top of the leader board.”
Defending champion Liang ended a two-year-victory drought of his own in beating former US PGA champion YE Yang in a five-hole, sudden-death play-off last year.
“He is a very respected player and as the local I’m ready to face his challenge and will try my best to play well,” said Liang.
Schwartzel continues to be frustrated by his ball striking despite his best round of the tournament and says he will dig deep for inspiration.
“To have these sort of weeks frustrates me a lot because I know I can play a lot better, especially on a golf course like this where you should be a lot more under par,” he said.
“On the brighter side, at least I’m not far behind. We all know the game and sometimes it changes overnight so hopefully I can find something that will get me through tomorrow and let me hit the ball the way I know I can and at least give Darren a run.”