(Reuters) – Defending champion Cameron Smith shot a five-under-par 67 on day three of the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast on Saturday and will take a three-shot lead into the final round.
The Australian started the day with a one-shot advantage and turned in a bogey-free round at the Royal Pines Resort for a 14-under total of 202 after 54 holes to extend his lead over compatriot and World Cup of Golf team mate Marc Leishman.
American Harold Varner III, the 2016 champion, was tied for third place on seven-under at the European Tour co-sanctioned event, alongside Australia’s Matthew Millar.
Smith, who could become the first player to successfully defend the title since Robert Allenby in 2001, started off with a par on the first hole and showed good composure to escape a greenside bunker and save par on the second.
He made gains on the fifth and the ninth to turn in 34 and added three more birdies on the back nine to put himself in the driving seat ahead of Sunday’s final round.
“The last year I’ve been playing some really good golf,” Smith said. “The last three days has been some of the best golf I think I’ve played both mentally and pulling off the shots. I’m feeling really confident and looking forward to tomorrow.
“I did a really good job today when I was out of position, just taking less risks and putting myself into the centre of the greens and taking a par. It’s what you have to do around here.”
World number 21 Leishman struggled with his short game, and had to wait until the eighth hole for his first birdie of the day. He turned in 35 and birdied the 10th, but dropped a shot on the next hole after landing in a fairway bunker.
Birdies on the 12th and the 17th helped him close with a three-under 69, but the 35-year-old knows he has work to do if he is to have any hope of overtaking Smith.
“I need to get off to a pretty good start, not as in the first two or three holes, but the first nine,” he said. “I need to have a good front nine, at least make him think about it.
“I’ve come from behind before, so hopefully I can do it again tomorrow.”
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru)