Graeme McDowell maintained his grip on the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai today – with a little help from Masters champion Bubba Watson.
McDowell began the third round at Sheshan International with a three-shot lead over Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter and four clear of Watson, but saw the American cut his deficit in half with three birdies in the first eight holes.
Watson picked up shots on the second and third and then almost holed his approach to the 603-yard eighth hole for an albatross, but missed the eagle putt from five feet and had to settle for a birdie.
With McDowell following birdies at the fourth and seventh with a bogey on the eighth, it looked like the pressure might finally be beginning to tell on the Northern Irishman, who had led since an opening 67 and fired another 67 on Friday.
However, it was Watson who made a vital mistake on the 10th when his simple approach to the green plugged in a bunker, from where he could only blast out to 40 feet and three-putt for a double bogey.
And to make matters worse for the left-hander, playing partner McDowell holed from 30 feet for birdie on the same hole to move to 12 under par, four shots clear of Poulter and five ahead of Watson, 2011 winner Martin Kaymer and Japan’s Hiroshi Iwata.
Poulter, who had saved par after driving deep into the trees on the 11th, looked set to close the gap on McDowell when he played a superb long-range bunker shot to the par-five 14th.
However, the world number 44 charged his birdie putt from six feet some three feet past the hole and missed the return to drop a shot and fall back to seven under.
McDowell’s lead was still four shots with Kaymer having birdied the 16th and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen also moving to eight under with four birdies in five holes from the 11th.
Watson had bogeyed the 12th after a misjudged tee shot but bounced back with a birdie on the 14th to join Poulter on seven under.
Kaymer birdied the 18th to complete a superb 66 and set the clubhouse target on nine under par, which was soon within two of the lead after McDowell failed to get up and down from the left of the 17th green.
Watson had reached nine under par with birdies on the 15th and 16th only to three-putt the 17th, a hole all three of the final group bogeyed as Poulter found similar trouble to McDowell.
Iwata, who is playing in his first WGC event, birdied the 16th and 18th to complete a round of 68 and move into second place on 10 under, just one behind McDowell who failed to birdie the last for the third day running.
Watson had no such problems despite laying up into the rough, the world number seven hitting a superb approach to two feet to finish with a birdie and move alongside Kaymer on nine under.