Peter Lawrie paid tribute to Luke Donald’s putting prowess after the Englishman gave another exhibition with the short stick to take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the BMW PGA Championship.
While the Dubliner had 32 putts in a level par 72 that left him four shots sdrift of Donald on seven under par, the world No 2 used the blade just 28 times, holing an 18 footer for birdie at the 18th for a 69 to lead on 11 under from compatriot Justin Rose.
Three birdies in his first 10 holes put Lawrie at the top of the leaderboard but he dropped shots at the 13th, 15th and 16th coming home as Donald played the same stretch in one under to remain on course to retain his title and regain the world No 1 spot from Rory McIlroy today.
“I was very happy after nine holes, a little bit sad after 18,” Lawrie said. “I played lovely on the front nine. Pretty good on the back nine. One or two little sort of little mistakes. Just didn’t hole any putts on the back nine, and it’s playing tough.
“I struck the ball lovely off the tee and my iron play has been good and I’ve hit a lot of greens in regulation. It’s just a little bit disappointing with not holing enough putts.
“Playing with Luke who is such a good putter, he really is, and you see him holing a couple and you want to hole them, as well. But we’ll wait and see what tomorrow brings.”
Waterville’s David Higgins, 40, carded a 74 that left him tied for 13th on two under par, leaving Lawrie as Ireland best chance of victory.
Assessing his chances of becoming the first Irish winner of the PGA Championship since Harry Bradshaw in 1958, Lawrie said: “Well, four back, give it a go tomorrow. If I can get off to a hot start, a couple under after nine, and then hopefully press on for the back nine; but tomorrow will be another day.”
Needing only a top eight finish to overtake McIlroy, 34 year old Donald is trying to follow in the footsteps of Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie and successfully defend European Tour’s flagship event.
Faldo did it in 1980 and 1981, while Montgomerie had three wins in a row from 1998 to 2000.
Overnight leader James Morrison endured a difficult day, however. Four clear after a sparkling second round 64, the World Number 236 signed for an 81 and will go into the closing 18 holes eight strokes off the lead.
Donald said: “The tougher the better for me. The good players that can be patient and deal with it are always going to rise to the top usually.
“That was by far my best round of the three. The wind was swirling and I hit a lot of solid shots.
“There were a couple of loose ones coming down the stretch, but I’m very pleased with that finish - it was hugely important for me.
“Physically and mentally it was tough and it’s going to be a grind tomorrow.”
Rose, who could move to a career-high fifth in the Official World Golf Ranking by winning, commented: “I’m delighted. It was one of those days where I only realised how good a round it was after I signed my card and saw that the course had taken its toll.”
Gareth Maybin hit just eight greens in a 76 to slip back to level par while Paul McGinley had two double bogeys in a one over 73 to share 30th place on one-over.
Damien McGrane’s 75 left him in 49th on two over while Shane Lowry played his first 10 holes in eight over par but then had seven pars in a row and a birdie at the last for a 79 that left him on eight over.
The big talking point of the day was the firmness of the greens which prompted a four-letter outburst by Ernie Els, who redesigned the course.
According to Lawrence Donegan in the The Guardian, Els said: “I’ve asked them to put water on the bloody greens and then I spoke to JP [John Paramor – the European Tour’s chief referee] coming up the 15th and he said we did water it last night. I said you have to triple that. You have a damn 30mph easterly breeze blowing so put fucking water on the greens. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.”