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Johor Bahru: Padraig Harrington of Ireland raced into a commanding five-shot lead despite playing with a neck injury in the third round of the US$1.25 million Iskandar Johor Open on Saturday.


The three-time Major winner, a member of the victorious European team at the Ryder Cup two weeks ago, gritted his teeth to pull off a four-under-par 68 at the Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club.


Harrington’s three-day total of 17-under-par 199 put him well clear of Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang, who needed two late birdies for an even par 72 in the Asian Tour event.


Singaporean Mardan Mamat fired  a 70 for third place, six back, while Korea’s Noh Seung-yul, the Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, and former world junior champion Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand shared fourth place on 206 after a 71 and 69 respectively.


Harrington tweaked a muscle in his neck during warm up but showed no signs of his troubles as he charged into an eight-shot lead through 12 holes when he got to five under for the day. He missed a short birdie chance on 16 and then three putted for bogey on 17 as Lin chipped away the lead.


“If I wasn’t leading, I would have definitely pulled out. It’s still a problem. It was a bit better at the end but it was a substantial problem. I got a lot of breaks early on as I couldn’t really hit the ball at all for a good while, three quarter shots all the way. Thankfully I did get a lot of breaks,” said Harrington.


“It eased up a little bit on 16 but I didn’t finish very well! But maybe sometimes when you are injured, it makes you relax a bit more. You accept poor shots and get on with it. My attitude was good all the way through.”


Bidding a first Tour victory in two years since his last victory at the US PGA Championship in 2008, Harrington said he will not rest on his laurels.


“I’m a little disappointed I didn’t take the eight shot lead through to the clubhouse. There’s a lot to play for. It gives a chance to the field, to a number of guys who are close enough. If someone goes out there and shoots 64, it might put some pressure on me. My goal will be to shoot in the 60s. If someone beats me, I’ll be patting them on the back and saying ‘well done’,” said the world number 22, who headed straight for physiotherapy after his round.


Lin, a five-time Asian Tour winner, lost his trademark putting touch as he struggled on the greens to shoot three birdies against as many bogeys. But the 36-year-old from Taipei is not discounting a fightback on Sunday.


“I missed too many short putts for birdie or par. Everything was okay. Putting was good but it didn’t go in on five holes. When the putts don’t go in, you feel tired. When you walk, you feel tired. But over the last four holes, I had some short putts for birdies,” said Lin.


“Maybe there is a chance tomorrow. The greens are very difficult. If I hit it good, then we’ll have a chance. Yesterday, I hit seven under (in the third round) and I’ll try to do that again tomorrow.”


Veteran Mardan was solid with three birdies against a lone bogey. “I feel good. Nothing much happened but it was okay. I just want to concentrate and enjoy my game tomorrow. I’m okay, feel good. Just want to play well. I just kept patient and played my own game,” said the Singaporean.


Noh and Kiradech, two of Asia’s rising stars, were resigned to playing for second place in the final round after falling seven shots back of Harrington in the Iskandar Johor Open.


Nothing much went right for the 19-year-old Noh, who found water once as he signed for a card with four birdies against three bogeys. “I made it tough for myself. My game wasn’t good and I was hitting a lot of shots into trouble. It was terrible, it was going both ways. Maybe I am a bit tired as this is my sixth tournament in a row. I’ll need to rest up tonight and after this week, take a short break as well. I think we’re playing for second place tomorrow,” said the reigning Maybank Malaysian Open champion.


Kiradech rued a cold putter, especially a putt at the last for eagle which stopped at the lip. The burly Thai stormed out with a 33 but swapped two birdies against two bogeys coming home as his bid for a first Asian Tour victory stalled.


“I’ve hit it good for three rounds but my putting, I’m missing a few. It’s tough to read the lines. I think the lead is too much for us. I think we’ll be playing for second place tomorrow. Harrington is playing the best golf. The pins are tough but he’s still shooting five or six under every day. I’ll try to get second now,” said the 21-year-old Kiradech.


Defending champion K.J. Choi of Korea shot a 69 to move up to a share of seventh place on 209 with Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who equaled his year’s best round of 68. South African star Retief Goosen was a further shot back in tied 15th following a 69.


Asian Tour

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