SHANGHAI • One more flawless round, and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama could find himself becoming the first Asian golfer to win a World Golf Championship tournament.
The world No. 10 turned in his first flawless round of the WGC-HSBC Champions yesterday to head into the final day's play with a three-shot lead over reigning champion Russell Knox.
Starting the day with a three-stroke cushion after 19 birdies over the first two rounds, Matsuyama was again in impeccable form at the Sheshan International Golf Club, carding a four-under 68 to end the day at 17-under 199 for the tournament.
The 24-year-old picked up just one shot in his first eight holes but birdies at the ninth, the par-five 14th and the last kept him ahead of the chasing pack at the US$9.5 million (S$13.2 million) event.
"Today, when you're in a position to win, playing smart and making no bogeys was very satisfying to me... I think the key for tomorrow's round will be not making any bogeys," he said.
A crucial birdie in his final hole made the difference between a narrow and a solid final-day lead for him. "It was a big, big birdie to take the lead from two strokes to three," said Matsuyama, the first Japanese player to make the world's top 10 since Jumbo Ozaki in 1998.
"I had 248 yards to the pin. Faded a three-wood in there."
Knox, who won on his debut last year, also carded a 68, with American Daniel Berger a shot behind him in third place on 13-under after mixing eight birdies and three bogeys in his round of 67.
"I'm not going to give up my title without a big fight tomorrow," said Knox. "The way Hideki played today, he's probably going to play similarly tomorrow."
World No. 3 Rory McIlroy also started strongly with birdies on the second, sixth and eighth holes but lost ground with three bogeys on the back nine to end up with a 70.
The Ulsterman has a share of eighth place on nine-under with five others, including British Open champion Henrik Stenson (67) and American Matt Kuchar, whose 68 included a hole-in- one on the shortened par-three 17th.
However, there was no prize for his feat, as the teeing ground was moved up inside 200 yards as its turf had cut up badly in wet conditions in the past week.
"It was the saddest hole-in-one," the American told reporters. "I knew I just made a hole-in-one and I was teased by this beautiful car sitting there, that's not to be mine."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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