Trinity in the driving seat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 December, 2004, 12:00am

Kingston fires an eight-under-par 62 to join Harrington and Jimenez at the top of the leaderboard

First there was Adam. Then came an Angel. And yesterday the world just went mad with the lead shared by a trinity while half-a-dozen others, including Nick Faldo, drove themselves into contention.

It was pure bedlam as the third round came to an end yesterday. Out in front were defending champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and James Kingston of South Africa - who fired a sizzling eight-under-par 62 - to go one-shot ahead of the pack on 10-under 200 overall.

Breathing down their necks were Faldo, Dane Thomas Bjorn, England's David Howell and Thai Thammanoon Srirot. And one shot further back on 202 were first-round leader Adam Groom of Australia and Frenchman Gregory Havret.

It should be a bun fight at Fanling today as the 46th edition of the tournament draws to a close. The competitive nature of the field, one of the strongest in recent times, will make this a contest to be savoured. Fans should turn up well before the final flight tees off at 11.35am.

The sun will be out and the tension will be high. While Irish ace Harrington is clearly one of the favourites, the presence of such a large number of hopefuls will just add to the pressure, heightened by that legendary name - Faldo.

'The pressure is on as it is. There is no point worrying about others. Why worry about Nick when Miguel [Jimenez] is in form or with David [Howell] due for a win. I'm worried about myself. There is a lot to play for and a lot of hard work ahead,' predicted Harrington after carding a 67.

Harrington can count himself fortunate to be in the final flight today. He survived a remarkable set of circumstances at the 16th hole - a par-four, 411-yarder - when he had to use three balls in total.

His first tee shot went into the rough and thinking he had lost it, he played a 'provisional'. But when he got there, Harrington found the first ball. The Irishman, however, declared the ball 'unplayable' and returned to the tee to play another, getting a lift in a cart. Despite all this, he was lucky to escape with just a bogey.

The proverbial luck of the Irish stayed with Harrington as he then holed a 20-foot uphill birdie putt at the last hole to tie for the lead.

'It just curled in and I'm very pleased with that. At the start of the day, I had hoped to build a buffer but it didn't quite work that way. But I am happy that I'm in the last group for the final round.'

Overnight leader Jimenez lost his golden touch with the putter. Having begun the day with a two-stroke lead, the Spaniard got off to the best possible start when he birdied the first hole to extend that lead to three. But his game then came unstuck as he bogeyed four of the next eight holes.

A welcome eagle on the 12th was his saving grace as he struggled home.

'I never got going on the course. I didn't hit it properly and couldn't find my rhythm. I felt a bit strange on the course and didn't feel like myself out there. But there is still one more round to play and I'm still in front,' said Jimenez, who is seeking to win his fifth title this season and third in Asia.

The best score of the day belonged to former Asian Tour veteran Kingston. The 39-year-old South African played in Asia for five years before winning his card on the European Tour in 2004 and finishing 59th on the money list. He came back to Hong Kong - a favourite stop for him - as this event is co-sanctioned by both the European and Asian tours.

Starting the third round nine shots behind leader Jimenez, an inspired Kingston was on fire as he knocked in nine birdies and a bogey to sweep to the front and take a share of the lead.

'To shoot 62 on probably the toughest day so far is quite pleasing. It's the right day to do it. I had a hat-trick of birdies early and I knew I was off to a good start. I wish you could do something special to produce rounds like this, but it just happens,' said Kingston.

The leaders will have their work cut out. A lean six-time Major winner Faldo - a new diet has seen him lose 6kg since late August and add bounce to his step - plugged away and forced himself into the picture with a 65.

'I have a great opportunity in front of me and I know what I need to do to win this tournament,' said Faldo, who is looking for his first victory since 1997.

But while he will keep an eye on Faldo, Jimenez says the main danger should come from Harrington and Bjorn. The Dane, runner-up at last week's Volvo China Open, continued his recent run of good form by charging up the leaderboard with a 65. His only blemish came on the par-four, 426-yard 14th when he collected a bogey.

'I started seven behind and now I'm one behind. I got pretty much what I deserved and I'm happy,' said Bjorn.

England's Howell was not as happy as he could only manage 70 after struggling in the wind.

Asian hopes on the last day will be carried by Thai Thammanoon. He will have to keep his cool as he tries to challenge a world's top-10 player, a former Major champion and Ryder Cup stars for glory.

It will be one heck of a battle to see who will be the last man standing.