Kuala Lumpur: India’s Anirban Lahiri romped to a four-shot lead at the CIMB Classic on Saturday, firing a brilliant seven-under-par 65 in the third round to set himself up for a maiden PGA Tour title.
The reigning Asian Tour number one enjoyed another birdie binge with nine on the card against a double bogey at TPC Kuala Lumpur to lead from defending champion Justin Thomas of the United States and Scotsman Russell Knox, who shot a 71 and 68 respectively in the US$7 million tournament sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA Tour.
Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama battled to a 69 to share of fourth place with Americans James Hahn (69) and Derek Fathauer (68) while the day’s low round belonged to current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Scott Hend of Australia, who sizzled with a 63 to move up to joint 17th position.
Two back at the start of the day, the 29-year-old Lahiri was delighted he finished the day with four birdies over his last five holes as he erased the disappointment of dropping shots late in his opening two rounds.
“It's very important. Obviously it was on my mind today, it was on my mind since I finished my round yesterday actually. I was determined to keep my focus right through the 18 holes,” said Lahiri.
With his best finish to date on the PGA Tour being tied fifth at the 2015 PGA Championship, Lahiri is hoping to join countryman Arjun Atwal as the only Indians to win on the PGA Tour but he knows he must go low again on Sunday.
“I just need to focus on what I need to do. I feel I’m in a good place mentally and physically and with my game, so that's exactly where you want to be going into tomorrow. I'm not going to think much about where I am but just think about what I need to do,” said Lahiri, who has seven wins on the Asian Tour.
He arrived at the CIMB Classic in confident mood following his stunning finish at the Venetian Macao Open last weekend where he birdied nine of his last 11 holes, including seven straight closing birdies, to get into a play-off, only to lose to Thailand’s Pavit Tangkamolprasert.
He has since shot 25 more birdies at TPC KL, a venue which he won the Malaysian Open here last year, raising his birdie tally to a staggering 34 over his last 65 holes. “After Macao, I was sitting and looking, I have seven seconds and four thirds and a few fourths and fifths for my seven wins. It's painful when you don't get over the line, and when you do, you remember it. You remember what it felt like mentally, and I think that's where you want to recall that feeling,” said Lahiri, who only needed 23 putts today.
“I don't consider any lead safe out here. This golf course is such that, you've seen guys shooting 63, 61. I've shot 62 before. Justin shot 60 last year. I have to go out there and I have to just keep making birdies.”
Thomas, defending his first PGA Tour win, courageously birdied his closing five holes after being four-over through 12 holes to stay on Lahiri’s coattail. “It was really just terrible golf for the first 13 holes. It was a very weird feeling. I just put myself so far behind the eight-ball,” said the 23-year-old, who is ranked 35th in the world.
“It was great to have that finish. I gave myself a chance. I hope I can ride the momentum into tomorrow. Anirban is playing great. It's the best I've seen him play. He just made it look so simple. I didn't realise he made nine birdies until we finished,” said Thomas, who won last year’s CIMB Classic with a tournament record of 26-under-262 last year.
World number 20, Knox, chasing a third PGA Tour victory, is prepared to launch a final day charge after failing to hit his stride for much of the third day. “I didn't feel great over the ball. So it was a bit of a struggle. My body just didn't feel as good as yesterday.
“This is a course where you've got to play great on the last day to win because there's going to be people that do it. I need to be super aggressive tomorrow,” said the Scotsman.
Scores after round 3 of the CIMB Classic being played at the par 72, 7,005 Yards TPC Kuala Lumpur course (am - denotes amateur):
197 - Anirban LAHIRI (IND) 66-66-65.
201 - Justin THOMAS (USA) 64-66-71, Russell KNOX (SCO) 70-63-68.
202 - Derek FATHAUER (USA) 64-70-68, James HAHN (USA) 69-64-69, Hideki MATSUYAMA (JPN) 69-64-69.
203 - Scott PIERCY (USA) 68-68-67.
204 - Keegan BRADLEY (USA) 64-72-68.
205 - Tyrone VAN ASWEGEN (RSA) 69-70-66, Adam SCOTT (AUS) 70-69-66, Emiliano GRILLO (ARG) 74-65-66, Ryo ISHIKAWA (JPN) 69-68-68, Rafa CABRERA BELLO (ESP) 69-67-69, Zac BLAIR (USA) 70-66-69, Brendan STEELE (USA) 67-69-69, Marc LEISHMAN (AUS) 69-65-71.
206 - John HUH (USA) 71-69-66, Sergio GARCIA (ESP) 67-72-67, Scott HEND (AUS) 74-69-63, Jamie LOVEMARK (USA) 68-69-69, Ryan MOORE (USA) 71-65-70.
207 - Adam HADWIN (CAN) 71-69-67, Patrick REED (USA) 68-73-66, Sunghoon KANG (KOR) 70-69-68, Aaron BADDELEY (AUS) 67-71-69, Patrick RODGERS (USA) 70-68-69, Paul CASEY (ENG) 65-72-70.
208 - Hudson SWAFFORD (USA) 71-69-68, Jim HERMAN (USA) 70-72-66, Miguel TABUENA (PHI) 73-69-66, Kevin KISNER (USA) 68-70-70.