SOTOGRANDE - Sergio Garcia is in sight of back-to-back victories after a dramatic finish to his Andalucia Masters third round on Saturday.
A four-under-par 67 took Garcia to six-under-par 207, two strokes ahead of Spanish compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez and Swedish surprise contender Christian Nilsson.
Garcia took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his trousers to the delight of a large home gallery, to play out of the hazard on 17 but just failed to make par.
He bounced back immediately, though, with a spectacular approach from close to cork trees to under two feet on the last.
That earned Garcia his sixth birdie and put him on the brink of following up last week’s runaway Castello Masters victory, his first for nearly three years.
He went into the final round at Castellon eight shots ahead of the field and won by 11 strokes, but Garcia said he had a more difficult task this time.
“It’s going to be much harder than last week, so I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” Garcia told reporters. “But if I can make a few putts again here and there I could be OK.
“Playing out of the hazard on 17 was risky but I thought I had a better chance to make par than playing from the (penalty) drop zone. I just didn’t trust my putter as I should have.”
Garcia’s putter has not let him down as he continued his good form on the greens he found last week.
For playing-partner Jimenez (68), his putter was distinctly cold. He made two eagles - a pitch in on the fourth and a mere 18-incher on the 11th after a stunning approach - where his putter was almost redundant.
“I could have had birdies on the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th,” said Jimenez, looking for a first win of the year, said. “If I could get my putter at least warm tomorrow I may still have a chance.”
Nilsson (65), looking to clinch a place in the tour’s elite season-ending Dubai World Championship, is currently lying 64th on the Race to Dubai, with only the top 60 qualifying.
The Swede increased his chances greatly with the joint-best score of the week, pencilling in eight birdies on his card, four in succession from the fourth.
“It’s the most important day of my career tomorrow,” he said, “and this was the best round of my career.”
First and second round leader Richie Ramsay of Britain returned a 73 and is now three shots off the lead after bogeying the last two holes.
Even with world number one Luke Donald deciding not to play in next week’s Champions event in Shanghai, German Martin Kaymer’s chances of retaining his European number one status receded with a 73 that left him 12 strokes off the lead.
Donald withdrew from the tournament in China with the birth of his second child imminent.