Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup as they bid to lift the trophy for Ireland. The star duo returned an eight-under-par 64 in the fourballs on Saturday to reach 21-under for the tournament.
Giving chase at Mission Hills Resort in Haikou, China, are the heavyweight trio of Germany, South Africa and the USA who are all at 19-under.
Ireland – starting the day as joint leaders with Australia – began with birdies on five of the first
seven holes and picked up three more shots on the back nine.
“It was a solid day,” said McDowell. “We are right where we want to be going into tomorrow, but we know there are some great teams and great players up there.
“We are both playing lovely. I managed to heat up my putter today and made a few, so we are very excited about tomorrow.”
McIlroy paid tribute to his teammate. “I was just lucky enough that Graeme played very, very well today and held a lot of great putts,” he said. “You know, I was a spectator for the majority of the round, but it was good.”
The pair are looking to lift the trophy after finishing joint runners-up to Italy in the last staging of the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup two years ago.
“It would be incredible just to add your name to the list of players and countries that have won this tournament,” said McIlroy.
“When you see the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead – there you have two American teams that feature four of the best players ever to play the game. So to be able to put your name on a trophy like that would be very special.”
Germany and South Africa were the day’s big movers as they each returned 11-under 61s.
Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA Championship winner, fired seven birdies for Germany with compatriot Alex Cejka notching four as they roared up the leaderboard.
“We played very well together,” said Kaymer. “We made lots of birdies and always on different holes. I played very well today but, obviously, you can only play well and be aggressive if you have a partner who is playing very consistent and is always there for you.”
South Africa’s star pair of reigning Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen birdied four holes in a row from the 14th to move right into contention.
Schwartzel put their display down to an improvement on the greens. “The first two days, we really struggled with putting,” he admitted.
“Then today, the first few holes we didn't make any putts, but from the seventh we made three birdies in a row and suddenly we felt like we were back to our normal selves. Now we have a good chance going into tomorrow and it's always an honour to play for your country.”
The USA pairing of Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar recovered from a rare bogey at the par-five second to share 10 birdies in a 63.
They were buoyed by a superb save from Kuchar on the 18th when he pitched to within inches of the pin from off the green after Woodland had put his approach into the water. “It looked like I was in trouble after my second shot but made a nice up-and-down to save a stroke
there,” said Kuchar.
Woodland added: “That was a huge up and down from Matt and hopefully it will give us a lot more momentum going into tomorrow.”
Australia’s Brendan Jones and Richard Green are three off the pace on 18-under after a 67. And Dutch duo Robert-Jan Derksen and Joost Luiten moved into the reckoning with a 64 to reach 17-under.
Twenty-eight nations are chasing glory at the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup, which is being held from 24-27 November.
The tournament finishes on Sunday with the final-round foursomes.
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