Ireland will be playing for pride on the final day of the World Cup in China after a third round 68 in the fourballs left Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley seven shots behind joint leaders Australia and Spain.

The Irish duo failed to make the fast start they needed to reduce Spain’s six shot lead and while the finished the day alone in fifth place on 15-under par, they are now seven strokes off the pace on the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills.

“We didn’t play very well today, me especially,” McDowell said. “I didn’t play very well and Paul kept us in there. We kind of salvaged something at the end but we got off to a very slow start and we knew we needed to play well today to get ourselves back in the tournament. We didn’t do that.”

Two birdies and a bogey on the front nine left the Irish pair with too much to do on a day when Australian pair Richard Green and Brendan Jones hit a nine-under par 63 to tie for the lead with Spain on 22-under par - four strokes clear of pre-tournament favourites Sweden with Germany alone in fourth spot on 17-under.

Three back nine birdies allowed the Irish pair to remain in contention for a top finish but McDowell confessed that they now need a miracle to lift Ireland’s third World Cup title.

He said: “We are disappointed, obviously, and we have got a lot to do tomorrow now. That’s golf. You have your ups and downs. We just never got into a rhythm today at all.

“Sometimes in the betterball format you can try a little too hard and get nothing for it and today was a little bit like that. I just couldn’t see to get anything going. When you try to take on shots that you shouldn’t really take on, it just gets worse and worse.

“Sometimes you have got to take a step back and get a little patience back and hit fairways and greens again. I gave myself a few chances coming in there and if I had made that one on the last it would have put a little bit of a shine on the day.

“But as I say, we have got a lot of work to do tomorrow. We you are a long way behind, it kind of makes you got for your shots a little bit. You are trying to hit it close. You are trying to hole everything when you are so far behind and if I had made that putt on the last to get within five, we might have had a chance tomorrow.

“We still have a lot to play for and we will be trying hard to finish high up. Winning is going to take a few mistakes from Spain but in the foursomes format, that is not out of the question.”

While day two belonged to Spain, after Miguel Angel Jiménez and Pablo Larrazabal’s breathtaking display in the foursomes, the third day of fourball went to Australia as Green and Jones combined for a nine under par 63 to catch the Spanish pair.

Australia made the faster start as they immediately set about closing the four stroke lead held by Spain overnight, making three birdies in the first four holes against one by Spain. An eagle on the seventh, however, seemed to ignite the Spaniards and at the turn they were three in front. The three stroke margin remained intact until a dramatic change of fortunes on the 15th.

The last four holes of the Olazábal Course are notoriously tough and Spain, who had looked to be totally in control of the championship, bogeyed the par five 15th while Australia eagled when Jones holed from six feet. The three-shot swing put the two teams level and while Spain edged ahead with a birdie on the 16th, Australia moved into a share of the lead with a birdie on the last.

Jones holed the five footer on the final hole to match Spain’s 54 hole total and said: “I missed a little putt on the last hole yesterday, and I had the same sort of length putt today.  I made up for it today. We feel a lot better now walking off the golf course with a birdie, as opposed to a bogey. It's a solid round of golf and we are right where we want to be.”

Both countries have won the World Cup title four times and are joint third in the list of all-time winners. A classic head-to-head contest over the final 18 holes lies ahead in the foursomes.

The final day reverts to foursomes as the teams compete for the honour of winning the 2008 Omega Mission Hills World Cup.

“Spain had an exceptional round of golf in that format on Friday,” said Green as he looked ahead to the final round. “But I guess in regards to Spain replicating that round of golf tomorrow, I personally doubt it.  I think it's going to be a little bit tougher tomorrow, obviously a lot more pressure to win the tournament, and I think a good score tomorrow is going to be anything in the 60s.”

After the third round playing their own ball, the final day is back to alternate shots and teamwork will be vital.

Green said: “We both make decisions for the team.  We both go out there and do as good as we can for Australia, and that's what it's all about, for both of us.  We both feel very proud to represent Australia and no one stands above the other.”

Spain lit up the Omega Mission Hills World Cup on day two with their camaraderie and outstanding play and while the third day fell short of that expectation, they remain tied for the lead and right in the hunt.

“We had not as good of a round as the first round, with more mistakes today,” said Larrazabal.  “But, we are still leading.  So we know if we are playing like yesterday, we are going to win the tournament. ”

Jiménez added: “Like Pablo says, you know, the game today is not at the level of the first two days.  We made a lot of mistakes.  On the 15th we dropped a shot, and in this format, that's like killing yourself.

“But at the end, we are five under par for a total of 22 under, and we hope tomorrow to keep on the same level of the game that we have as yesterday and before yesterday and keep in contention.  We are playing not as solid as the first two rounds, but still, we feel solid and strong enough.”

Sweden, the pre-tournament favourites, are four shots adrift on 18 under par after Robert Karlsson, The 2008 European Tour Number One, and Henrik Stenson, carded a 66, while Germany lie a further shot back on 17 under par following the 68 of Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka.

The final day reverts to foursomes as the teams compete for the honour of winning the 2008 Omega Mission Hills World Cup.

Third round scores
194 Spain (Miguel Angel Jimenez, Pablo Larrazabal) 64-63-67
194 Australia (Richard Green, Brendan Jones) 63-68-63
198 Sweden (Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson) 65-67-66
199 Germany (Martin Kaymer, Alex Cejka) 62-69-68
201 Ireland (Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley) 65-68-68
202 Japan (Ryuji Imada, Toru Taniguchi) 66-68-68, USA (Ben Curtis, Brandt Snedeker) 64-69-69
204 Denmark (Soren Hansen, Anders Hansen) 65-75-64, Philippines (Angelo Que, Marciano Pucay) 67-72-65, Canada (Graham Delaet, Wes Heffernan) 64-71-69
205 France (Gregory Havret , Gregory Bourdy) 68-75-62
206 England (Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher) 69-74-63, Thailand (Prayad Marksaeng, Thongchai Jaidee) 69-73-64
207 Italy (Francesco Molinari, Edoardo Molinari) 70-73-64, South Africa (Rory Sabbatini, Richard Sterne) 70-70-67, Portugal (Tiago Cruz,Ricardo Santos) 67-73-67, Finland (Roope Kakko, Mikko Korhonen) 69-70-68
208 China (Liang Wen-chong, Zhang Lian-wei) 69-75-64, New Zealand (Mark Brown, David Smail) 65-75-68
209 Chile (Felipe Aguilar, Mark Tullo) 67-76-66, Scotland,(Alastair Forsyth, Colin Montgomerie) 68-73-68, India (Jeev Mikha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa) 67-72-70, Korea (Bae Sang-moon, Kim Hyung-tae) 68-70-71
211 Guatemala (Pablo Acuna, Alejandro Villavicencio) 69-76-66
212 Chinese Taipei (Lin Wen-tang, Lu Wen-teh) 68-75-69
214 Wales (Bradley Dredge, Richard Johnson) 69-77-68, Mexico (Daniel De Leon, Osca Serna), 66-77-71
220 Venezuela (Miguel Martinez, Raul Sanz) 71-74-75
Note: Fourball used in first and third rounds, foursomes in second and final rounds.