Published January 13, 2015
Brett Rumford is positioned for his second win in as many European Tour appearances after firing a third-round, 3-under 69 on Saturday at the China Open.
Rumford, a victor at last week's Ballantine's Championship, sits a 12-under- par 204 through 54 holes, one stroke clear of overnight leader Mikko Ilonen, who bogeyed the last on Saturday and dropped into second place.
Ilonen, who recorded both of his European Tour wins in 2007, gave away his 3- shot overnight lead courtesy of a third-round 73 at Binhai Lake Golf Club.
"It was a good fight out there," he said. "(Rumford's) 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."
Pablo Larrazabal (69) is alone in third place at 10-under, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (72), who won his first European Tour title at the Maybank Malaysian Open in March, occupies fourth at 9-under, and Joost Luiten (68) is in fifth at minus-8.
First-round leader Robert-Jan Derksen, who hasn't had a top-10 finish on the tour in over two years, dropped into a share of sixth with a third-round 73. He is joined at 7-under by Victor Dubuisson (66).
Defending champion Branden Grace remained at 3-under after an even-par 72. The world No. 32, who has three top-10 finishes on the tour this season, is tied for 22nd place.
Ilonen's lead was in peril from the start on Saturday.
The Finn bogeyed the first, which allowed Aphibarnrat to pull within a stroke thanks to his birdie on the second. Ilonen bounced back with a gain at No. 2, and temporarily reclaimed his overnight margin when Aphibarnrat bogeyed the third, but a new challenger quickly emerged in Rumford.
Playing in the final pairing with Ilonen, Rumford opened with five straight pars before reeling off a hatrick of birdies starting at the par-5 sixth.
Ilonen, meanwhile, overshot the green with his third shot on No. 6 and settled for bogey. He got that stroke back at the seventh, but he couldn't match Rumford's third straight birdie at No. 8, which produced a tie at the top.
Rumford parred out, which proved enough for sole possession of the lead when Ilonen went awry off the tee on the 18th and tripped to another bogey.
"That was a tough day," said Rumford, who will go for his fifth European Tour win on Sunday. "I really started to feel things on the back nine. 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."
NOTES: In addition to the Ballantine's Championship, Rumford has European Tour titles at the 2007 Omega European Masters, 2004 Irish Open and the 2003 Aa St Omer Open ... Ilonen finished ninth in Qatar and second in Morocco this season... Grace finished tied for 18th at the Masters three weeks ago ... Amateur Wo-cheng Ye of China made history when he teed off Thursday as the youngest player to compete in a European Tour event at 12 years and 242 days old. He failed to make Friday's cut, however, carding consecutive 79s and finishing at 14-over. He broke the record held by Tianlang Guan, who was 13 years and 177 days old in this event in 2012. Guan went on to become the youngest player to compete and make the cut at the Masters this year.