Foster gives chasing pack hope

England's Mark Foster threw the Quinn British Masters at The Belfry wide open tonight by finishing his third round with a double bogey six.

England's Mark Foster threw the Quinn British Masters at The Belfry wide open tonight by finishing his third round with a double bogey six.

Four clear of the field on the tee, the 32-year-old from Nottinghamshire hit an awful second shot into the lake short of the green, then saw his pitch spin off the putting surface.

Foster did well to get down in two from there, but he had given the six players in joint second place a massive boost in the race for the title.

A third round that began with a fog delay effectively ended with nobody having the foggiest who might take the title because the twice English amateur champion - that was over a decade ago and he has only won once on the European Tour since - knows he finished on a really deflating note.

He has never led going into the final 18 holes on the circuit.

"I didn't look at the leaderboards, but knew I was doing okay obviously," he said after his 70.

"It was a shame about the last, but I'll reflect tonight and it was a good day overall."

Lee Westwood, also from Worksop, Ian Poulter, France's Gregory Bourdy and Swedish trio Niclas Fasth, Martin Erlandsson and Fredrik Andersson Hed are the sextet closest to him.

Colin Montgomerie would have been on the eight under par mark as well but for bogeys at the 16th and 18th.

Foster added: "I was a bit dazed coming off the 18th, but the putt proved I had kept my focus and it gives me a good mental image.

"I take full responsibility. It was a three-iron shot, but I didn't want to hit it and hit a little wood instead.

"I just saw the ridge behind the flag and the ball coming back down it, but I hit it thin and the shot had no real flight."

Earlier, 18-year-old Rory McIlroy, playing his first event as a professional, showed how ambitious and confident he is after a 70 lifted him from 57th to 41st.

While making the halfway cut will be marked down as a success - Justin Rose, after all, needed 22 attempts to earn his first pay cheque - the Irish youngster said: "Last night I was more disappointed that I had fallen back than happy that I had made the cut.

"I didn't come here with the mindset of making the cut. I know I am good enough to contend." He had been in a tie for 14th after his opening 69.

His only Tour victory was in a six-man play-off in South Africa four years ago and it could end up that way again.

Poulter looked as if he might have blown his hopes of winning a week before his wedding when he double-bogeyed the sixth and eighth, but the former Ryder Cup player came home in 32 with birdies on the 10th, 12th, 14th and 17th.

On the sixth he pushed his drive into water and two holes later he went from a fairway bunker into the hazard short of the green.

"From there I played flawless golf," he commented. "I'm hitting so many good shots and if I can keep playing like that there's a chance for me tomorrow."

Poulter was four behind at that point and could not stop a big smile coming on his face after discovering his deficit had been slashed right at the end.

"I was fuming inside after the second double bogey, but I will never give up. That's as burning inside as I've been in a long while, but I am aggressive any way and I didn't not look at any pin today and it will stay that way."

Fined twice this season for smashing tee markers in frustrating he was asked if there a danger of it happening again after the start.

"No, the tee box on the ninth was safe I think. I don't want to be handing out too many more bottles of nice red wine to the European Tour staff for their Christmas party!"

Westwood double-bogeyed the ninth, but had a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th to match Poulter's 70.

Montgomerie had the same score and that was for the third day running for the eight-time European number one.

However, his abiding memory of the round will be of going over the green on the 16th and not getting up and down, then taking another bogey five at the last after pulling his second into sand.

"I had a good round going and let it get away," said Montgomerie.

"I came back poorly and I've got a lot to do now." Not as much as he thought likely, though, because of Foster's playing of the 18th.

Meanwhile, the absent Soren Hansen looks a safe bet to take one of the last spots in the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in three weeks' time.

Two places in the 16-man field are available from the European Order of Merit after this event.

Swede Henrik Stenson was already sure of one of them, but last week's winner Hansen could have been knocked out by South African Richard Sterne, England's Graeme Storm and France's Gregory Havret.

Storm, though, missed the halfway cut, Havret is next-to-last and had to win and Sterne, needing to finish in the top three, is only 20th after a 71.

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