Casey's graft and craft carry him clear

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Paul Casey remains on course to become the only European golfer to win three times this year. Casey, successful in Sydney in February and at The Belfry in May's Benson and Hedges International Open, takes a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Telefonica Madrid Open. But it was not plain sailing for the 26-year-old from Surrey, who has moved up from 104th to 22nd in the world already this season.

On a miserably cold and wet day here at Club de Campo, Casey had his five-stroke lead trimmed to one when he bogeyed the fifth and sixth holes while Swede Marten Olander eagled both the 518-yard fourth and 540-yard seventh. Casey strengthened his grip with birdies at the ninth and 11th, only to follow with two more bogeys - both the result of hitting trees after driving into trouble.

The 2001 Rookie of the Year, seventh on the Order of Merit and strongly fancied to make his Ryder Cup debut next September, did not panic, however, and after a two-putt birdie on the long 14th parred the last four for a level-par 71 and 14-under aggregate of 199.

Peter Fowler, the 44-year-old Australian, became his closest challenger over the back nine, but as the light faded he bogeyed the last for a 70 and dropped alongside compatriot Nick O'Hern and the 1999 Open champion, Paul Lawrie, in joint second place. Lawrie had two birdies in the last five holes to revive his hopes of a first win since the Wales Open at Celtic Manor last August.

Casey began his day's work at 9.30am, but after finishing off a second-round 65 with a par and a near hole in one at the short 17th he had to wait for over four hours to tee off again.

Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia, the two pre-tournament favourites, are joint 10th on seven under. Harrington, twice a winner on the course, had a 68, but Garcia has disappointed again after opening with a 64 that left him only one behind Casey. Garcia was fourth in the world entering 2003, but decided to make swing changes and is now only 28th.

He is down in 93rd place on the US Tour money list, and having failed to qualify for their season-ending Tour Championship, is not certain to earn a place in next week's Volvo Masters at Valderrama.