Golf: Mist closes in on Clark

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THE Madeira Island Open, the first event of the new European golf season, has been reduced to 54 holes after low cloud halted play for the third day running yesterday. Yorkshire's Howard Clark and the Swedes Mats Lanner and Peter Hedblom share the lead on nine under par and will return today to complete what has now become the third and final round.

Clark has 10 holes to play and both Lanner and Hedblom nine. The trio are two strokes ahead of another Swede, Mathias Gronberg, and Worcester-based Jeremy Robinson.

Both the first and second rounds had to be carried over into another day because of poor visibility on the 2,000ft high course and in mid-afternoon yesterday, the weather closed in again, this time with rain falling as well.

Although the forecast is not good for today either, the main reason the decision to shorten the pounds 250,000 event was taken so early was the shortage of flights out of the island. The tournament director, David Garland, said: 'We cannot go on to Monday because the majority of players would not then be able to get the charter to Morocco for this week's tournament.'

Clark, the 39-year-old former Ryder Cup player chasing his first victory since the 1988 English Open, began the third round two clear and that became three when he sank a 10-foot putt on the 459-yard fourth.

He then three-putted the short sixth, however, to allow Lanner and Hedblom to catch him. Lanner, whose only tour success was back in 1987, birdied the fifth and eighth, while Hedblom, a 23-year-old who was 36th at the qualifying school last November, picked up strokes on the fifth, seventh and ninth.

The Midlander Paul Broadhurst, one behind when the second round was called off on Friday night, resumed with a bogey and then began his third round with a double bogey. With 10 to play he is three strokes adrift.

Broadhurst hit problems when he started his third round in a strong wind. A poor pitch and a fluffed chip meant a double-bogey six on the first, and he returned to five under, four behind Clark. Lanner moved into second place with a birdie on the long second.

Clark opened with three straight pars and went back into a two-shot lead when Lanner bogeyed the 348-yard fourth. Robinson, never better than 10th on the tour, birdied the second, but dropped a stroke on the next and was also seven under with Lanner, Waters, Hjerstedt and Gronberg.

Rain added to the players' difficulties and soon low cloud was sweeping across the course once again. Clark birdied the fourth, but then dropped only his second stroke of the week at the short sixth.

Lanner took the opportunity to go into the joint lead at nine under with birdies at the fifth and eighth. They were a shot ahead of Hedblom, with Robinson and Gronberg one stroke further back at seven under.