AFTER two days of showing a liking for the back nine, Matt Fitzpatrick turned his affections to the outward nine at Fanling and lies tied fourth going into the final round of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
The Sheffielder had harvested eight birdies on the inward stretch - four each day - on his way to successive 67s.
In round three he carded four birdies reaching the turn in 30 and handed in a 66, coming home in level par with one birdie and one bogey.
While he stands five shots off the lead held jointly by his fellow Englishman Justin Rose and Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, it is testament to both his skill and application that he is so high on the leaderboard just a fortnight after his first European Tour win.
Fitzpatrick took a week off after claiming the British Masters title, but neither this nor the long journey to Hong Kong seem to have dulled his competitive edge as he looks to push his way up the world rankings from his current position of 61.
World No 7 Rose and Bjerregaard staged a thrilling third-round duel.
Rose began the day with a one-shot lead and carded two eagles and two birdies in a flawless 64, but saw playing partner Bjerregaard go one better with a 63 marred only by a bogey on the 18th.
This left the pair on 15 under par at Hong Kong Golf Club and four shots clear of Anirban Lahiri, with Lahiri’s fellow Indian Jeev Milkha Singh and Fitzpatrick a shot further back.
Ian Poulter, who made a last-minute journey from Orlando to play this week and maintain his European Tour membership, saw his chances of victory disappear with three bogeys in his last five holes for a 73, which left him 11 shots off the pace.
Rose, who started the day nine under after rounds of 65 and 66, hit a wild drive on the first hole and could only punch his second shot through the trees onto the fairway, but pitched to 15 feet and holed the putt for par.
The 35-year-old then left his birdie putt on the next three feet short, but made amends on the par-5 third with a drive of more than 350 yards and an excellent approach setting up an eagle chance he converted from 25 feet.
That took the Ryder Cup star to 11 under par and briefly into a two-shot lead until Bjerregaard, who had birdied the third, also picked up a shot on the fourth.
Bjerregaard moved into a share of the lead after a tap-in birdie on the sixth and matched Rose’s birdie on the 10th, the former US Open champion having driven the green on the 280-yard par-4 with a three wood and two-putting for the simplest of birdies.
Further birdies on the 11th and 12th took Bjerregaard two clear and the 24-year-old made it four in a row on the par-5 13th, but still saw his lead cut in half as Rose holed from 50 feet for his second eagle of the day.
Rose then holed from five feet for birdie on the 14th before Bjerregaard retook the lead on the 16th, only to drop his only shot of the day on the last after his approach ran up against the collar of rough at the back of the green.
Pre-tournament favourite Rose was impressed by Bjerregaard but also by his own ability to save par at some crucial points during the round.
“Lucas played unbelievable golf today,” Rose said. “I actually didn’t know much about his game and he can really play.
“I hung with him and what impressed me was the couple of par saves that I had to make. I didn’t play the first hole particularly well but made a nice 15ft putt for par there and then eagling the third kind of got me up and running.
“It was just a really fun day playing with Lucas and flip-flopping birdies and eagles and really stretching away from the field.”
Lahiri, who has already won twice this season and was fifth in the US PGA Championship, birdied five of his last nine holes to edge ahead of Fitzpatrick, his closest rival to be named European Tour rookie of the year.