Turkish Airlines Open: Li Haotong takes three-shot lead as Justin Rose fatlers; Shubhankar Sharma stays at 53rd
Li Haotong brought home a stunning 63 to open up a three-shot lead over defending champion Justin Rose and Alexander Levy heading into the final round.
Antalya: The normally consistent Justin Rose very uncharacteristically went into the water three times in the matter of nine holes, the second half off his third round at the Turkish Airlines Open on Saturday. His two-shot lead not just evaporated but he found himself three behind the new leader Li Haotong, who in January had held off Rory McIlroy to win the Dubai Desert Classic. Haotong brought home a stunning 63 that included a chip-in birdie and a 173-yard hole out for an eagle on Par-4 tenth, to open up a three-shot lead over defending champion Rose (69) and Alexander Levy (66) heading into the final round.
India's Shubhankar Sharma finally seemed to have warmed up to the course, as he was bogey-free two-under through 17 holes, before a trip into the water cost him a bogey and finished one-under 70 and one-under 212 in T-53rd place, exactly where he was a day earlier.
"It was a better day than previous two. I found more fairways, hit a lot of greens and had a lot of chances from 15 feet and less, but despite getting the right read and line, the ball did not drop. Still, I am fine, as the overall game is in good shape. There is one more round to try and improve my place."
The Asian Tour's best-positioned player was Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67) at 10-under and was Tied-ninth.
The Chinese star, who is right exactly No 50th in the world started the day at the sixth Rolex Series with a birdie and had four more in first nine, followed that up with an eagle and a sixth birdie. By the 12th he was ahead and eight-under for the day. But the last six holes produced no more gains.
But just at the hole where he had an unlikely eagle, Rose went into the water for the first time and then did it twice more on 15th and 18th for three of his four bogeys during the day at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort. Frenchman Levy was bogey-free as he carded a hugely impressive 66 to sit a shot clear of 2016 champion Thorbjorn Olesen and two ahead of English pair Sam Horsfield and Danny Willett.
Haotong, if he wins, would become the first Asian player to win a Rolex Series event. It would be his third European Tour title. "I really want to win this week and play my best tomorrow," he said. "Especially at a Rolex Series event. It's going to be an exciting day tomorrow and I'm looking forward to going against Rose.
"I definitely got a lot of confidence from Dubai and since then I've been playing a lot of big events which has built my confidence, also."
Of his chip-in and then the eagle, Haotong said, "That was quite a special moment for myself, and second shot was like 173 something and 8-iron, tried to hit a high fade, which I did, but little bit flyer high and finished pin-high, which is a little long, and lucky from the top and rolls in."
He added, "Nine was chip-in. Yesterday I did the same thing but I hit the flag, kicked out and today was just lucky, went in." It was the fourth time he had holed out from off the green this week.
Despite his troubles on Saturday, Rose kept his humour intact, when asked if he remembered the last time he went into the water three times in a round. He shot back, "No, I can't. I'm pretty good at forgetting things. Made a career of that. I can't remember yesterday."
He added, "I can't change today obviously, so the position I'm in is the position I'm in. It's not a bad position. Of course, it could have been better. Going into tomorrow, I'm in a good spot. At the start of the week, you might have said, you know what, I'll chance my luck and take that and see how Sunday pans out."
Rose needs a win to move back to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking with a victory while Levy, who already has a win this season at the Trophée Hassan II, is looking for European Tour title number six.
Haotong birdied the first and some brilliant iron play allowed him to make birdies from five and two feet on the fourth and fifth to get into a share of the lead. Rose put his own approach at the fourth to five feet to take the solo lead again but ahead on the sixth Li made it three in a row from eight feet.
Rose was clearly in the zone as well, however, and he chipped in on the fifth before putting his tee shot on the sixth to three feet for a hat-trick of his own and a two-shot lead. When Rose three-putted on the seventh the lead was cut to one and when Haotong chipped in on the ninth, he turned in 29 and was back in a share of the lead. Better was to come on the next as his second from the fairway on the par four found the back fringe and rolled slowly back into the cup for an eagle and a two-shot lead.
Rose put his approach on the ninth to five feet and cut the gap to one. He bogeyed the tenth after finding the water for the second day in a row and a Haotong birdie ahead on the par-five 12th extended the lead to three.
A Rose approach to three feet on the 11th was the perfect response and he holed a 15-foot putt on the 12th to get back within one before giving the shot straight back on the next after finding the bunker.
He saved par after finding water on the par-five 15th but could not repeat the feat on the last and Haotong had a cushion.
Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Dane Lucas Bjerregaard and England's Tom Lewis were at ten under, while Belgian Thomas Pieters was ten shots off the lead after equalling the course record with a 62.
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