Rory McIlroy might be looking “ominous” from tee to green but the world No 6 was furious to close with a double bogey in the BMW Masters.
With overnight leader Luke Guthrie dropping shots at the 16th and 18th to fall into a share of the lead with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello, McIlroy is six shots off the pace alongside Pádraig Harrington on two under par.
No wonder he was angry with himself at the finish, where he bunkered his approach, hit a poor recovery and then three putted.
According to reports, McIlroy gave his Nike Method putter a couple of whacks off the ground on his way to the recording area where he signed for a one under par 71 and a share of 14th place.
A par would have left just seven men ahead of him at Lake Malaren but he now finds himself needing a closing round in the mid-60s to have a realistic chance of winning for the first time this year.
That can only happen if the 24-year old improves around the greens but after taking 32 putts for the third day in a row, he may well have to wait until next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions to challenge for his first win since last year’s DP World Tour Championship gave him the Race to Dubai title.
After following seven opening pars with a bogey at the eighth, McIlroy made four birdies in a row from the tenth to move into the top ten.
His double at the tough 18th was a blow like Harrington, he is struggling to put all elements of his game together on a consistent basis.
The 42-year old Dubliner, eager for the season to end, raced up the leaderboard with two birdies and an eagle three in his first seven holes. He then birdied the 10th to move into the top 10 but faltered coming down the stretch.
After missing a good birdie chance at the 11th, he bogeyed the 12th and then found water at the par-five 13th to drop another stroke.
Inevitably, another bogey followed at the 18th and it will be interesting to see how he fares alongside McIlroy and Maximilian Kieffer in the sixth last group on Sunday.
Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley will go out with two of the heroes of Medinah, Luke Donald and Peter Hanson, after a two under 70 left him tied for 31st on two over par.
Shane Lowry is a shot further back after a 70 that was a true rollercoaster affair.
While he made an eagle three at the seventh and five birdies - including one of just seven recorded at the 18th - the world No 72 bogeyed the 10th, 14th and 16th and racked up a double bogey seven at the 544-yard 13th.
“My scorecard was like a rainbow today especially on the back 9,” Lowry tweeted of his halves of 32 and 38. “Hoping for a good one tomorrow to finish off the week.”
Back in action for the first time in five weeks, newly-married Graeme McDowell slipped to 36th on four over after a 76.
The world No 12, second in the Race to Dubai to Henrik Stenson, has struggled to make birdies and a tally of 34 putts in round three told the tale.
While he holed that outrageous eagle putt from off the 13th green on Thursday, he has yet to make a birdie at a par-four with all five of his gains coming at par-fives and par-threes.
At the top of the leaderboard, Cabrera-Bello posted a bogey-free 67 to catch long-time leader Guthrie.
The Spaniard flew out the blocks at Lake Malaren Golf Club with successive birdies, before making further gains at the seventh, 11th and 17th holes to wipe out the deficit to Guthrie, who remained on eight under after signing for a level par round of 72.
Cabrera-Bello’s last victory came at the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but the €851,446 he would collect for winning the first tournament in the Final Series would be comfortably the biggest pay day of his career.
He said: “Starting with two birdies was obviously great. It gave me confidence straight away, but just because you get off to a good start doesn’t always mean you’re going to have a good round. But I stayed patient, and luckily more birdies kept coming.
“It wasn’t easy, because even though it was warmer today, it was still quite breezy. The forecast was for the wind to die down, but it only started to die down right at the end of our round. So although it wasn’t as strong as yesterday or the first day, it was still very challenging.
“So I’m happy with how I played, and hopefully tomorrow I can keep those feelings and take them on to the golf course with me. I just want to go out there, play my best and enjoy the day.”
For much of the day, Guthrie had looked like retaining the lead he has held on his own since opening with a stunning round of 65, but two bogeys in his final three holes meant his is not the only name at the very top of the leaderboard.
Despite the late blip, however, the 23 year old was still confident of following his friend and compatriot Peter Uihlein into the winners’ enclosure on the European Tour.
He said: “Overall I was hitting it well and putting well for the most part, but I just let a few shots get away from me towards the end, and that’s never fun. But I’m tied for the lead going into tomorrow, and I’m excited about what the final day holds.
“I’m sure there will be a few nerves in the morning, but that’s a good thing. Even though I may look calm on the outside, inside I think all of us get pretty pumped up when you’re in that situation. It’s a great feeling as a competitor, so bring it on. I’m excited.”
Another Spaniard, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, is currently in third place on seven under par after matching Cabrera-Bello’s round of 67.
Fernandez-Castaño’s day ended on a bright note with a rare birdie on the tough finishing hole, and he will go in search of his seventh European Tour title on what promises to be an exciting last day in Shanghai.
Frenchman Grégory Bourdy is also in contention after climbing to six under par courtesy of a round of 67, whilst the Scottish duo of Scott Jamieson and Craig Lee share fifth place on five under par.
The 78-man field has been reduced to 76 with Joost Luiten retiring injured after just one shot on Thursday and England’s Simon Dyson disqualified today for signing for an incorrect score on Friday after TV viewers called in to report that he had touched the line of a putt.
Dyson, who tied for second place and just four shots off the lead after a second round 70, had a birdie putt that ran just past the cup on the eighth hole Friday. After marking his ball, he used the ball to quickly tamp a spot on the green directly in the line of his next putt in violation of Rule 16-1a. (See Golfcentraldaily.com’s YouTube video below)
Chief referee John Paramor reviewed the incident on Saturday morning and talked to Dyson about the violation to see if he might have been removing a loose impediment.
Paramor said: “We reviewed the footage with Simon today and there was no other option but to advise him that he was in breach of rule 16 1-a and that does lead to disqualification because he signed for a wrong score yesterday.
“He was bitterly disappointed, he had no way of explaining why or how he came to do what he did, he had no recollection of it till I showed him and even then he said ‘I can’t even remember doing it.’ It’s a very sad thing and unfortunately his event is over.”
Dsqualification has dealt a huge blow to Dyson’s chances of making the lucrative Race to Dubai finale.
Only the top 60 on the European Tour money list are eligible and Dyson, who is currently ranked 66th, has not qualified for next week’s HSBC CHampions and therefore needs a big performance in the following week’s Turkish Airlines Open to make the Top 60.
Dyson is the latest player to have a rules infraction spotted by television viewers, the most famous this year being Tiger Woods taking an incorrect drop during the second round of the Masters.
Woods escaped disqualification on that occasion because rules officials said they had examined his drop on the 15th hole and ruled he had done nothing wrong, but did not speak to Woods before he signed his card.
BMW Masters, Lake Malaren, Shanghai (Par 72)
After 54 holes
208 R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 73 68 67, L Guthrie (USA) 65 71 72,
209 G Fdez-Castaño (Esp) 71 71 67,
210 G Bourdy (Fra) 70 73 67,
211 P Casey (Eng) 70 70 71, C Lee (Sco) 70 70 71, S Jamieson (Sco) 72 68 71,
212 P Larrazábal (Esp) 70 73 69, T Jaidee (Tha) 70 70 72,
213 M Fraser (Aus) 73 70 70, L Westwood (Eng) 72 71 70, B Wiesberger (Aut) 75 69 69, P Uihlein (USA) 69 75 69,
214 R Gonzalez (Arg) 73 67 74, M Kieffer (Ger) 72 72 70, R McIlroy (Nir) 71 72 71, P Harrington (Irl) 72 72 70, T Björn (Den) 73 72 69, S Kjeldsen (Den) 76 71 67, F Molinari (Ita) 72 71 71,
215 I Poulter (Eng) 74 69 72,
216 D Horsey (Eng) 72 72 72, D Willett (Eng) 74 72 70, M Kaymer (Ger) 75 71 70,
217 E De La Riva (Esp) 75 72 70, T Olesen (Den) 75 70 72, R Fisher (Eng) 75 70 72, G Mulroy (RSA) 74 72 71, B Rumford (Aus) 73 69 75, R Sterne (RSA) 74 72 71,
218 L Donald (Eng) 75 72 71, P Hanson (Swe) 79 68 71, P McGinley (Irl) 77 71 70,
219 S Lowry (Irl) 78 71 70, P Lawrie (Sco) 74 73 72,
220 T Fleetwood (Eng) 72 77 71, M Griffin (Aus) 74 72 74, J Donaldson (Wal) 79 70 71, G McDowell (Nir) 70 74 76, R Jacquelin (Fra) 76 72 72, J Daly (USA) 68 74 78, M Ilonen (Fin) 80 70 70,
221 D Fichardt (RSA) 74 75 72, L Oosthuizen (RSA) 74 77 70,
222 S Webster (Eng) 79 73 70, J Quesne (Fra) 73 77 72, N Colsaerts (Bel) 74 76 72, S Gallacher (Sco) 77 71 74,
223 M Siem (Ger) 81 71 71, H Mu (Chn) 75 73 75, A Cañizares (Esp) 75 75 73, B Grace (RSA) 79 69 75, F Aguilar (Chi) 77 72 74,
224 W Ashun (Chn) 73 76 75, M Jiménez (Esp) 74 75 75, L Wen-Chong (Chn) 75 75 74,
225 H Stenson (Swe) 72 74 79, A Noren (Swe) 74 76 75, L Hao-Tong (Chn) 78 72 75, S Dong (Chn) 76 75 74, T Aiken (RSA) 80 70 75, V Dubuisson (Fra) 78 75 72,
226 M Warren (Sco) 73 77 76, S Khan (Eng) 77 76 73, R Santos (Por) 77 76 73, G Coetzee (RSA) 78 74 74,
227 Z Lian-Wei (Chn) 78 74 75,
228 H Ming-Jie (Chn) 81 75 72, H Wen-Yi (Chn) 71 79 78,
229 Z Xin-Jun (Chn) 76 77 76, D Howell (Eng) 76 74 79,
230 L Xin-Yang (Chn) 77 77 76,
231 L Yan-Wei (Chn) 78 77 76,
234 H Shao-Cai (Chn) 83 73 78,
236 C Wood (Eng) 79 83 74,
241 L Xuen-Cheng (Chn) 85 78 78,
** S Dyson (Eng) 70 70 DQ,
** J Luiten (Ned) RT