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Westwood fires incredible 61 to draw level with Oosthuizen at WGC-HSBC Champions

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lee_westwood1Lee Westwood produced a magnificent 11-under-par 61 to tie Louis Oosthuizen for the lead after an action-packed third round at the US$7 million WGC-HSBC Champions on Saturday. The Englishman, an Asian specialist where he has won 11 tournaments in the region, was in irrepressible form to shoot 11 birdies for an 18-under-par 196 aggregate at the Mission Hills Golf Club's Olazabal course.

South Africa's Oosthuizen started the day five shots ahead of the pack but his lead quickly dwindled as he signed for a 70. Four-time Major champion Phil Mickelson shot a 66 to trail by three strokes in third place as he kept up his bid for an unprecedented third HSBC Champions title, Asia's richest championship and lone World Golf Championships event.

American Brand Snedeker, who won the FedEx Cup after winning the season-ending Tour Championship on the PGA Tour, flirted with the magical 59 but his birdie putt from 18 feet on the last hole slid past the cup. He settled for a remarkable 60, which is the lowest round ever in a World Golf Championships event, and moved up from equal 38th place to tied seventh.

Westwood came charging through the field with an imperious display of approach play as he birdied five of his first seven holes before rolling in an eight footer at the ninth to turn in 30.

He drained a 30 footer for birdie at the 14th – playing partner Ian Poulter sunk his approach from a fairway bunker for eagle at the same hole – and continued to putt well as he added further gains at the 15th, 16th and 17th.

"As the week's gone on, and we've played it and walked it more, I started to sort of get a feel for the golf course more and sort of see the lower scores around it," said Westwood.

"I played very solidly, got off to a nice start, birdied the first three holes and kept ticking over, birdieing the odd hole and finished strongly. I hit it good, hit it in the fairway, hit it close, and made a couple of 20 footers which has been missing."

Making a record 41st appearance at a World Golf Championship event, Westwood has another chance to try and record a first WGC victory. "It does surprise me I've played more than anyone else," said the 39-year-old, who has finished second three times at WGC events, most recently to Francesco Molinari in this event two years ago.

"I didn't realise I was that old! I know I've played a lot but I've never won one."

Oosthuizen had to wait four holes for his first birdie of the day, and followed it with a three-putt bogey at the fifth before a gain at the long seventh. The Masters Tournament runner-up had further birdies at the par fives on the back nine – the 11th and 15th – but dropped a shot at the 12th in a round he described afterwards as "frustrating".

He added: "Early I didn't play really well and then started to find a little bit of form on the back nine, but just didn't make any putts. Knowing all the birdies that were out there, you look at the leaderboard, but I'm still in a good position for going into tomorrow.

"I still gave myself birdie opportunities, just normal ones and the ones I hit really close I just didn't make. So the putter went cold on me today, but I still hit good putts which is very frustrating."

Snedeker wasn't too disappointed to miss the 59 as he tied the Asian Tour's low 18-hole record. "You don't get a chance to shoot 59 too often, maybe a couple times in your career and to do in a World Golf Championships event is special. I played great today, made a lot of putts. Can't be too disappointed with how I played today, but you always want to make that last one," he said.

Scores after round 3:

198 - Lee WESTWOOD (ENG) 70-67-61, Louis OOSTHUIZEN (RSA) 65-63-70.

201 - Phil MICKELSON (USA) 66-69-66.

202 - Ian POULTER (ENG) 69-68-65, Bill HAAS (USA) 69-67-66, Ernie ELS (RSA) 70-63-69.

203 - Brandt SNEDEKER (USA) 72-71-60.

204 - Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND) 73-68-63, Carl PETTERSSON (SWE) 70-68-66, Martin KAYMER (GER) 68-69-67, Scott PIERCY (USA) 68-68-68, Adam SCOTT (AUS) 65-68-71.

205 - Luke DONALD (ENG) 68-68-69, Jason DUFNER (USA) 68-66-71.

206 - Marc LEISHMAN (AUS) 73-68-65, Prom MEESAWAT (THA) 67-70-69, Thorbjorn OLESEN (DEN) 71-65-70, Shane LOWRY (IRL) 66-68-72.

207 - Marcel SIEM (GER) 71-70-66, Hiroyuki FUJITA (JPN) 73-67-67, Keegan BRADLEY (USA) 71-68-68, Bubba WATSON (USA) 66-72-69, Gonzalo FDEZ-CASTANO (ESP) 71-67-69, Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 70-68-69.

Photo by Getty Images