Rumford leads Ilonen by one shot after third round of Volvo China Open

Brett Rumford at the Volvo China Open
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Brett Rumford, leading the Volvo China Open, is seeking to become the third Australian to win back-to-back tournaments in the 41-year history of the European Tour.
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PGA.com news servces

Series: European Tour

TIANJIN, China -- Brett Rumford of Australia shot a 3-under 69 Saturday to lead by one stroke after the third round of the Volvo China Open, while 16-year-old Dou Ze-cheng of China trailed by 10 strokes after a 72.

Conditions were windy on the Binhai Lake Golf Club course as Rumford moved to 12 under, one stroke ahead of Mikko Ilonen (73). The Finn led by three shots at the halfway mark.

''It was a really tough day and a very tiring day, and I really started to feel it on the back nine,'' Rumford said.

Amateur Dou became the youngest at 16 to make the tournament cut on Friday after rounds of 70-72.

Pablo Larrazabal of Spain was at 10 under after a 69, making four straight birdies from No. 10 but dropping two strokes in his last five holes. Paul Casey of England, the 2006 China Open champion, bogeyed four of his closing six holes to shoot 72 and trailed by seven shots.

Rumford is seeking to become the third Australian to win back-to-back tournaments in the 41-year history of the European Tour. He ended a six-year drought at the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea last week.

Jack Newton (1972) and Graham Marsh (1977) are the only Aussies to have won consecutively on tour.

Defending champion Branden Grace – coincidentally the last player to win two weeks running on the European Tour in his native South Africa last January – is nine back after a third-round 72.

A trio of birdies from the sixth saw Rumford catch overnight leader Ilonen, and the Finn bogeyed the last after driving into the water. The 35-year-old Rumford, who eagled the first play-off hole to win the Ballantine’s Championship, produced some outstanding up-and-downs on the back nine to sign for a bogey-free three under par 69 and 12 under total.

All his scoring came in a burst before the turn as he pitched to within a foot at the par-5 sixth, knocked a stunning approach to two feet at the seventh, and drained a 10-footer at the eighth for an outward 33.

“That was a tough day,” said Rumford. “I did really well to hang in nicely with some tired golf swings, I mentally stayed with it – physically not so much but mentally I hung in there. The wind was really starting to dry things out so you’ve got to be very precise.”

Ilonen started the day three clear, but the 33-year-old pulled a three-foot par putt at the first and saw his lead diminish to one when Kiradech Aphibarnrat birdied the long second.

Ilonen – who won both his European Tour titles back in 2007 – responded with a birdie of his own at the second, but at the sixth overshot the green with his third shot and bogeyed. He retrieved that shot with a 10-foot birdie at the seventh, but after 10 straight pars failed to recover from his mistake off the tee at the par-5 18th.

Ilonen, who has already finished ninth in Qatar and second in Morocco this season, is still confident of winning – though he admits Rumford will be hard to dislodge.

“It was a good fight out there,” he said. “His short game today was incredible, and his confidence is obviously very high, especially on the greens, so I’m going to have to play very well to beat him tomorrow. 

“It’s good to be in the final group tomorrow. In Morocco earlier in the season, I had a bad round on the Saturday and dropped out of the last group,” he added. “So I’m pleased with the way I ground out a score today, even though I didn’t maybe play my best golf.”