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Day snatches third round lead at Australian Open

© AFP / by Julian LINDEN | Jason Day of Australia made back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th holes after parring his first 13 holes

SYDNEY (AFP) - 

Jason Day ended a frustrating run of par golf by making three late birdies to snatch the outright lead after the third round of the 102nd Australian Open on Saturday.

The former world number one's patience finally paid off when he made back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th holes after parring his first 13 holes.

He did drop a shot when he bogeyed his penultimate hole for the second day in a row but made amends with a birdie at the last for a two-under-par 69 and a three-round total of 10-under-203.

"It was tough to try and not to force things. I know the crowds are out there and they want to see a lot of birdies," Day said.

"As a professional golfer that's been around for a while now, it's easier for me to stand back and go, okay, I need to be patient and not try to be too aggressive."

Day, chasing his first title in 18 months since winning the 2016 Players Championship in Florida, will head into Sunday's final round with a one-stroke lead over his fellow Australian Lucas Herbert, who carded an even-par 71 to finish at nine-under after leading overnight.

Sweden's Jonas Blixt charged up the leaderboard into a share of third place at seven-under after a flawless 66, and was joined by the 2015 Australian Open champion Matt Jones, who signed for a 68.

"Jason's a world class player, a former number one," Jones said. "(So) he'd be the favourite to win but we've seen many upsets before and as long as I manage my game and give myself birdie opportunities, anything can happen."

Australia's Cameron Smith, who teamed up with Blixt to win this year's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, was in fifth place at six-under after firing a third consecutive round of 69 while the defending champion Jordan Spieth shot a 70 to finish eight shots off the pace.

"If there's any place to come from way behind, it's here," Spieth said.

"If I can sneak a few breaks in... get a couple of long putts to go or chip in or something like that. I?m going to have to have some magic."

Day's failure to pick up any early birdies saw him slip two shots behind Herbert but he drew level with his playing partner when Herbert took a double-bogey on the par-three 11th when he lost his ball in the bushes after an errant tee shot.

Herbert said he was so nervous about the prospect of playing with Day in the final group that he couldn't sleep on Friday night but was pleased with how he handled the pressure.

"It's like trying to drink three cans of Red Bull and then go to bed; that?s what it felt like," he said.

"But after I made a couple of good pars there to start, I think that sort of kicked the nerves and I was good to go."

Day made a tap-in birdie at the par-5 14th after almost chipping in for eagle, then snatched the lead with a birdie at the 15th.

He narrowly missed a long putt on the 17th to salvage par to rejoin Herbert at nine-under but immediately regained his slim advantage with a superb approach on the 18th to set up birdie.

"This is my last tournament of the year. I just turned 30 just a little bit ago, and I said my 30s were going to be better than my 20s, so it would nice to be able to start my 30s off with a good win," Day said.

"I know it's going to be a very difficult day tomorrow with regard to what we're going to have out there: the pressure, the wind, the fans, the media."

"It's been a while since I've won, so obviously everyone's going to be nervous out there," he added.

"It's a good nervous; without nerves you don't get in the zone and without being in the zone, you don't shoot the scores that you can shoot."

by Julian LINDEN

© 2017 AFP