Garcia back in the hunt

Sergio Garcia insisted he stood a chance of winning the Open de Espana after a third-round 67 saw him close to within five shots of the lead during Saturday.

Pre-tournament favourite Garcia faced an uphill struggle to simply make the halfway cut after a slow start on Friday, but recovered sufficiently on the back nine to card a level-par 72 and qualify with a shot to spare at El Prat.

Garcia back in the hunt

And the Spaniard’s comeback continued as he recorded a five-under-par third round to have leaders Francesco Molinari and David Howell looking over their shoulders.

Garcia birdied three of the first six holes to move up the leaderboard before parring the next three to complete the first nine in 33 shots.

The Spaniard began the back nine in confident fashion by picking up another shot at the 10th, before successive bogeys at the 12th and 13th held up his progress.

But Garcia repaired the damage immediately by making birdies at the 14th and 15th holes before picking up another shot at the 18th to sign for a 67 that put him two under for the tournament.

The world number 10 is hopeful of being in the mix on Sunday.

“I obviously needed a great round today, and it would have been if I hadn’t made those two bogeys on 12 and 13. But to be able to birdie 14 and 15 with two very nice shots and good putts got me back on track,” Garcia said.

“I didn’t play much different than the first two days. I managed to make a couple of nice putts early on, and a couple of things went my way. I missed my drive on 18 and managed to get away with it and make birdie. That made the difference between today and the first two rounds.

“The course is playing similar. The wind is not as strong but it’s still gusty. If you play well you can post a decent score, but if you’re a little bit off, you can struggle on this course.

“If the leaders don’t go much lower than what they are, with another great round tomorrow I have a chance. If it doesn’t rain the course is not going to play any easier... We’ll see what happens today and then I’ll try to play great tomorrow.”

Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez, meanwhile, trailed compatriot Garcia by a shot on one under overall after signing for a level-par 72 which included three birdies and three bogeys.

Jimenez thrilled the locals by recording a hole in one at the par-three eighth on Friday and, although he birdied the hole on Saturday and also picked up shots at the 12th and 18th, bogeys at the second, ninth and 11th tempered his progress.

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