The United States repelled an exciting late thrust by Team France to hold onto their one shot lead going into the final round of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup at Mission Hills Golf Club in China.
As the contest heads into the last session of foursomes, the leading eight nations are separated by only three strokes, setting the scene for an epic Sunday over the Olazábal course at the world’s largest golf resort.
Americans Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum ground out a six under par 66 in the last set of fourballs to maintain the lead they have held since the first day. However, their challengers ganged up behind them with the French pair of Grégory Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin muscling their way into contention.
Weekley and Slocum lead on 196, 20 under par, with France and Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren (66) tied for second place on 19 under. England’s Justin Rose and Ian Poulter had to settle for a 67 and 18 under par, alongside South Africans Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman.
Argentina, defending champions Germany and The Netherlands are tied for sixth place on 17 under par, virtually guaranteeing a day of high drama in the final day of the first World Cup sponsored by Omega and Mission Hills.
The French pair had dropped a strong hint as to their capabilities during the recent Seve Trophy, when they won three times and lost just once while representing Continental Europe against great Britain and Ireland.
An eagle at the ninth was the catalyst which saw the French catch fire and they proceeded to birdie the 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th on their way to a swashbuckling 62, which only Thailand, with a 63, came close to emulating.
Havret admitted: "The first eight holes were just average but the last ten were very good. We had a beautiful eagle at the ninth and some good birdies, so that was good."
The French chemistry was just right - hardly surprising considering the pair are close friends - and Jacquelin commented: "The plan at the beginning of the week was to stay in contention just to give us a chance to win on Sunday. We've got a chance and that's all we wanted at the beginning of the week."
Playing together in the Seve Trophy clearly enhanced the prospects of the French team and Havret continued: "It was good to play together because we knew at the time we were coming here. We are very comfortable together."
The United States have been in front from the gun but, like playing partners England, they could not put any more daylight between themselves and the chasing pack. Weekley said: "Overall, it was a grind out there. It wasn't like the first day where we hit it close and made some putts."
Slocum rubber-stamped his team-mate's comments and added: "I think the wind blew harder today and was swirling around it was a tough day. We survived, with neither of us playing our best golf. I am still happy with our position going into the last day."
Last year, Germany came storming through with a final 66 in the foursomes to grab the title from Scotland in a play-off. Judging by the tightly packed leaderboard, a similar score by any of the top half dozen teams could see them lift the massive World Cup trophy.
The Scots pair of Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren has survived intact from 2006 and Warren, the junior partner, believes the circumstances are right for his country to make amends for that narrow defeat.
"I think the experience of last year will help us in the foursomes" said Warren. "After coming so close last year we really want to win this and we've given ourselves the chance to do that. It's going to be tough in this format but we know what we have to do."
England, who last won the event in 2004 in Spain, are in the mix again despite a day in which they were not firing on all cylinders. Poulter summed up the day thus: "It was a round that 'could have been'. The pins were tucked away and hard to get at and it was a day to be patient.
"We had chances but they just didn't want to go in. Frustrating day all round, but we're only two behind going into the last day and we're pretty strong in foursomes. it's definitely not the end of the road."
It was left to Rose to put the situation in perspective with only 18 holes to play to decide the outcome of the inaugural Omega Mission Hills World Cup. He said coyly: "We've been chipping away nicely and doing okay. We don't think we've had our hot round yet but we hope that it comes tomorrow. That's the plan. We'll see."
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