By Tony Jimenez
VIRGINIA WATER, England (Reuters) – South African Branden Grace, who caused controversy earlier this week over a free drop he took from a bunker, climbed to within a stroke of the lead after the BMW PGA Championship third round on Saturday.
On a difficult day for scoring, especially on tree-lined Wentworth’s front nine, as fresh winds gusted up to 20mph, Grace carded a two-under 70 to claim second place behind surprise leader Andrew Dodt of Australia (68).
There were huge roars from the sizeable crowds surrounding the 18th green when home favorite Lee Westwood, bidding to win the title for the first time on his 24th appearance in the European Tour’s flagship event, grabbed his third birdie in a row.
The 44-year-old Englishman’s sparkling run helped him complete a 72 and elevated him to joint third along with Italian Francesco Molinari (74), three shots behind Dodt.
On Thursday, Grace’s ball was plugged on an awkward upslope in a greenside bunker at the par-four 13th hole. He summoned a rules official, saying his feet were touching rubber at the base of the sand, and the world number 26 was given a free drop.
Last year’s U.S. Masters winner Danny Willett said on his Twitter account: “@EuropeanTour please explain that drop?! Burying feet enough in to get to the base of the bunker”.
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was also less than pleased, saying: “If you twist your feet enough you’re bound to eventually reach the bunker lining”.
Grace responded by saying that he simply played by the rules.
“It is something that brought attention to a lot of guys out there who maybe didn’t know about that rule but now they know,” he said after posting a seven-under aggregate of 209 on Saturday.
“Some guys are going to love it and some guys are going to hate it. That’s always the game. I can only ask the question and he gave me relief.”
Helped by his low ball flight, Grace picked up six birdies in his round including a stunning sequence of four in five holes from the 10th.
Dodt, twice a winner on the tour, also took advantage of the prevailing breezes on the back nine as he rattled off birdies at the 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th.
“The last seven holes were a little bit easier playing downwind compared to the first two days,” said the 31-year-old. “But you’ve still got to hit the shots and I managed to do that today.”
The little-known Dodt will command plenty of attention in Sunday’s final round and knows he will have to contend with a few butterflies in his stomach.
“It’s going to be tough out there,” said the world number 251. “There will be a lot of nerves.
“I’ve just got to do what I’ve been doing the last three days. If I can do that I can give myself a chance.”
World number five Henrik Stenson, the highest-ranked player in the field, needs a barrage of final-round birdies to get into contention after he returned a 73 for 212.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)