By Michael Church
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Aaron Rai stands on the brink of a first European Tour victory after the Briton shot a two-under-par 70 on Saturday to extend his Hong Kong Open lead to six strokes with just one round to play.
Rai, who started the day leading by four shots after hitting a course-record 61 on Friday, increased his advantage by a further two shots to reach 16-under par for the opening three rounds at Fanling.
The 23-year-old had seen his lead reduced to a single shot by Park Hyo-won by the time he reached the turn, but a run of three birdies over eight holes and a back-nine implosion by the South Korean ultimately increased his advantage.
While a bogey at the last will have given his pursuers a glimmer of hope, victory on Sunday and a $333,330 purse would represent the biggest win of Rai’s career, with the Englishman having previously claimed three wins on the Challenge Tour.
Leading the chasing pack is 2017 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, who moved into a share of second place alongside fellow Briton Matthew Fitzpatrick thanks to a four-under round of 66.
Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, shot the best round of the day, a six-under-par 64, to sit in fourth after his trek around Fanling included an eagle at the par-four 10th, with the Spaniard driving the green before sinking a six-foot putt.
However, the 2017 U.S. Masters champion is seven shots adrift of Rai alongside Park and Jason Scrivener from Australia on nine-under for the tournament.
Reigning Masters champions Patrick Reed fell completely out of contention when his one-under-par 69 saw him drop into a share for 53rd with a three-round total of 209, one-under par for the tournament.
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by John O’Brien)