Paul McGinley will attempt to scratch a seven-year itch and win again when he goes into the final round of the Avanatha Masters just two strokes behind leader Jbe Kruger of South Africa.
But the 45-year old Ryder Cup captaincy hopeful, who posted a third round 68 at the DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi thanks to two closing birdies, is realistic about his chances of lifting a trophy for the first time since the 2005 Volvo Masters - six years, 3 months and 19 days ago.
Playing in just his second event of the year and in action at the weekend for the first time since last October following a series of injury problems, the Dubliner knows that draw on his vast experience if he is to come out on top of a packed leaderboard.
“This is only my second tournament this year because I had a knee injury at the end of last season which I’m still coming back from,” said McGinley, who is tied for fifth place on nine under par.
“I haven’t been able to play a full schedule this year so far because of the rehabilitation, but hopefully as the season goes on I’ll be able to play more and more.”
Kruger had two eagles and two birdies in a round of 66 which left him 11 under, one stroke ahead of halfway leader Peter Whiteford of Scotland, Germany’s Marcel Siem and France’s Jean Baptiste Gonnet.
Just three shots separate the top 15 with McGinley tied for fifth with Spain’s Jose Manuel Lara, Italian Andrea Pavan, Scot Marc Warren, Thailand’s Prom Messawat and Australia’s Marcus Fraser.
“It’s a pleasant surprise to be in contention because I’ve played so little golf,” added McGinley, who has falled from a career high of 18th to 501st in the world since his last win. “It was nice to finish birdie-birdie, and I nearly eagled the last – I hit a four iron to about 20 feet but just missed the putt. I played nicely and 68 is a good score.”
McGinley had been plagued by knee problems for the past few years and needed specialist treatment on his right knee over the winter to avoid yet another operation to remove debris around the kneecap.
Advised by his doctor to ease himself back to fitness by playing no more than once a fortnight to begin with, he explained: “I’ve been able to practise a little bit at home, but still my expectations weren’t all that high coming here because I’ve not played much competitive golf in the last few months.
“Last week I had to miss Dubai and was back in England, and we had snow on the ground so I didn’t practise at all. I was trying to clear the snow so I could hit some balls but it wasn’t great.
“So I’m not as competitive as the other guys out here who have played four or five tournaments already this year. But that’s ok, it’s a long season. And we’ll just see what happens tomorrow.”
Kruger said: “I’m going to try to play how I played today. If it’s meant to be my week, it’ll be mine, so I don’t want to think too far ahead yet.
“The putts need to go in and I think that’s what defines the winner. I’ve been reading the greens a little better as I’ve been struggling with it during the week.
“My putting has been good and if I can see the line, I’m confident my putts will go in. I’m improving and I’m a lot more experienced, and I think that will give me the edge.”
five shots behind leader Peter Whiteford starting the day, McGinley bogeyed the par four fifth for the third day running before making birdies at three of the next four holes to turn in 34.
His title challenge looked to be faltering as Whiteford moved to 12 under par but the Irish star finished strongly and took advantage of mistakes by the leader to get within striking distance
Asked about his eagles, Kruger added: “I got a little bit lucky on the sixth. I used a six iron and it landed about 20 feet away, and I managed to sink it. That was the longest putt I made today and I was lucky it went in.
“On the 15th, I just drove it a little short of the green and I made a pretty simple putt from about 12 metres. I managed to judge it to perfection and sink it.”
Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin signed for a one under 71 to slip one place to joint 31st on four under.
The Ulsterman had five birdies and three birdies in his first 15 holes but then bogeyed the par-five 18th.