SHANGHAI (AFP) –
Third-round leader Peter Hanson made the perfect start on Sunday in his bid to win the $7 million BMW Masters as he stretched the gap between him and world number one Rory McIlroy to four strokes early in the final round at Lake Malaren.
Sweden’s Hanson, the only man on the victorious European team to draw a Ryder Cup blank four weeks ago, birdied the short par-four second to move to 17-under par for the on-going tournament in Shanghai.
McIlroy, playing alongside Hanson in the final group, left himself with plenty to do to win the $1.16 million first prize as he dropped shots at the fourth and fifth holes to tumble back towards the chasing pack.
On a morning when the air was heavy with pollution and the US Consulate’s air quality index was hovering between the highest warning level of “hazardous” and the next worst “very unhealthy”, McIlroy, who complained of headaches after his 67 on Thursday because of the lack of clean air, seemed to be feeling the effects again.
He slid back to 13-under par to join a chasing pack that included world number three Luke Donald, who carded two birdies in his first six holes, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, who matched Donald’s start, and South Africa’s George Coetzee, who was level par for the day in the group with Hanson and McIlroy.
Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter started his day in scorching fashion, picking up three strokes in his first four holes to catapult up the standings to 12-under par.
Also on 12-under were a gaggle of quality players including world number five Justin Rose of England, former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, former world number three Paul Casey and Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland.
Casey was enjoying a resurgent week after a horrendous year plagued by injury since dislocating his shoulder snowboarding last Christmas. The Englishman picked up two birdies in his first seven holes to be five shots behind Hanson.
The Swede was clearly relishing his chance to put one over his Ryder Cup team-mate McIlroy and told reporters ahead of the final round: “It’s just great also to play alongside Rory, and every chance you get to compete with the world number one it is just a fantastic thing to do.”
McIlroy won at Lake Malaren last year when the tournament was an invitational event and he would clearly like to triumph again now it has grown into one of the biggest prize money events on the European Tour.
Victory would lift his earnings on the European Tour in 2012 above the three million euro mark for the third year in a row and cement his place at the top of the Race to Dubai standings.
The 23-year-old is seeking to emulate Donald’s unique feat in 2011 of winning both US and European money lists in the same season.
“It would mean a lot if I could successfully defend here at Lake Malaren. It would be nice to win for a second time,” McIlroy said after his third round on Saturday.
The reigning US PGA champion added: “It would extend my Race to Dubai lead over Justin (Rose) and Branden (Grace), so that when I do get to Dubai later next month I won’t have to do much.”