By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry stormed clear of the chasing pack and into a five-stroke lead after the third round of the World Cup of Golf on Saturday, putting Belgium on track for a maiden title in the $7 million team event.
Having put on a wet weather clinic during the foursomes on Friday, the tall Belgian duo thrived in dry conditions to shoot nine-under 63 in the four-ball format at Metropolitan Golf Club.
Belgium, overnight co-leaders with South Korea, moved to a 19-under total of 197, five ahead of Mexico (65), Italy (66) and the Koreans (68) at the 28-nation event.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter (67) were a stroke further back on 13-under, with local hopes Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith (65).
“The vibe out there was pretty nice,” said 25-year-old Detry, who turned professional two years ago and has yet to win on the world’s leading tours. “It’s always nice when your partner is playing some good golf.”
Sunday’s final round reverts back to foursomes and with another day of dry weather forecast, the Thomases will be hard to beat.
They showed themselves impervious to the weather in the format on Friday, seemingly playing in their own bubble as the more favored nations floundered through atrocious conditions.
Pieters, a three-times winner on the European Tour, said their comfortable lead would not curb their aggressive approach.
“The strategy’s the same,” the 26-year-old remarked. “We were superb on the second day and we’ll do the same tomorrow.”
The young Belgians completed the day’s best round bogey-free and caught fire from the seventh hole, picking up five strokes in four holes, including an eagle on the par-five ninth.
They had a second surge on the back nine, capitalizing on the spongy greens to blow out their lead with three consecutive birdies from the 14th.
Italy’s Andrea Pavan and Renato Paratore threatened to challenge at seven-under through 13 holes, but suffered a simultaneous meltdown at the par-five 14th.
Paratore rolled a long putt off the green and into a deep ditch and Pavan joined him there after over-cooking his bunker shot. They finished with a double-bogey that sent them tumbling down the leaderboard.
“Just a mess,” Pavan said ruefully. “It just sucked because he’s (Paratore) obviously played well, and, you know, I feel like I should have just finished better.”
Team Australia said they hoped for a windy day on Sunday and to get the crowd fired up with a solid start.
“I don’t think we need to get ourselves up, I think more so to get the guys behind us thinking about it,” said world number 21 Leishman, a four-times winner on the U.S. tour.
“If we get the fanatics roaring, and friends and family, a lot of people supporting us… We’ve enjoyed that so far this week and it would be nice if we could make tomorrow our best day.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and John O’Brien)