WOBURN, England (Reuters) - Matthew Fitzpatrick kept up his hopes of becoming the youngest-ever winner of the British Masters when the 21-year-old ended the third round in a tie for the lead with burly Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat on Saturday.
The Englishman, who has held the lead on his own or shared it throughout this week’s $4.55 million tournament, produced a cool par save at the 18th hole to post a three-under-par 68 for a 12-under aggregate of 201.
The big-hitting Kiradech, known for his ‘go for broke’ style, picked up four birdies in a faultless 67 in his attempt to become the first player to win three European Tour events this season.
However, the identity of the eventual winner is anyone’s guess because 14 players are within five strokes of the lead.
Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti (66) and Dane Soren Kjeldsen (69) were joint third on 202, two ahead of England’s Luke Donald and Richard Bland, Shane Lowry of Ireland and Frenchman Romain Wattel.
Fitzpatrick looked like dropping a shot at the last but he got up and down from an awkward spot in a greenside bunker and will break fellow countryman Justin Rose’s 2002 record as the youngest champion if he claims the first prize of $755,000.
The former world amateur number one mixed four birdies with a solitary bogey but was not at his best on another warm, autumnal day at Woburn.
”It was a real battle out there,“ Fitzpatrick told reporters. ”I have to admit I didn’t feel like I played my best.
“I never really felt like I was threatening any of the flags and didn’t hit so many great shots but I managed to find the greens and get off with two putts when I could, and also holed the putts when I needed to.”
Fitzpatrick tried to play down the importance of the occasion in Sunday’s final round of the British Masters, an event that has been on the European Tour since 1972 and is back on the schedule this season for the first time in seven years.
“My focus is to try and finish as high as possible and if it’s a win, it’s a win,” he said.
Kiradech, who won the Shenzhen International in China in April and the Paul Lawrie Matchplay in Scotland in August, said he took extra care to avoid the hundreds of tall pine trees that line the Marquess Course situated 50 miles north of London.
“It’s quite narrow compared to other European Tour courses so you just try to keep the ball in play,” added the 26-year-old. “If you put yourself in the fairway you have a chance.”
Kiradech struggled to explain how he managed to drill home a curling, 40-foot birdie effort at the par-three 14th.
“The break was more than 10 feet, it was downhill and fast,” he said. “I didn’t think I could make that putt, it was just unbelievable. After I sunk it, it was like ‘wow’.”
Editing by Ed Osmond