Dazzling Martin out on his own

Spaniard puts his troubles behind him to set the pace after carding eight birdies
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The Independent Online

Less than a month after fearing for his European Tour future, Spaniard Pablo Martin charged into a four-stroke halfway lead at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa yesterday.

Martin, whose game nose-dived after he became the circuit's first amateur winner two years ago, followed eight birdies with a closing eagle for a dazzling 63. The 23-year-old is on 13 under par, but title favourite Ernie Els and in-form Italian Edoardo Molinari look set to test him over the weekend. They are joint second after Els also had eight birdies in a 67 and Molinari kept alive his hopes for a remarkable fifth win in his last seven events with a 69.

Martin missed the halfway cut in his first seven tournaments this year and it was not until the last day of his season that he avoided a trip to last week's qualifying school. He has had only one top-10 finish as a professional, but his 63 matched the lowest round of his career after he played the last eight holes in six under.

Els needs to repeat his 2005 victory here to extend a remarkable record of at least one win every year since 1990. He would have been only one behind but for three bogeys and said: "They were very soft bogeys, two three-putts and a pretty basic up and down that I didn't do. But I feel like I'm playing well enough to shoot some really good numbers."

Molinari's best win came two weeks ago when he teamed up with his brother Francesco to give Italy their first World Cup success. They are now 40th and 59th in the world, with Edoardo looking to climb into the top 50 in the next two weeks so that he too will play in The Masters at Augusta in April.

Not that it would be his debut. He was there three years ago as the US Amateur champion, but shot 80-77 and missed the cut by nine shots. He turned professional later the same season but, after struggling to establish himself on the European Tour, his recent form has been a revelation.

He won three times in topping the second tier Challenge circuit and then beat last year's European No1 Robert Karlsson in a play-off for the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan last month.

First round leader Ulrich van den Berg followed up his opening 64 with a 72 and is now joint fourth with fellow South African Charl Schwartzel and Swede Pelle Edberg.

Defending champion Richard Sterne came back into the picture with a 66 for six under, while there was an added distraction apart from the wildlife in the adjoining Kruger National Park. Ash from a nearby sugar plantation then swept across the course and greenkeeping staff were called on to sweep it away.

In-Kyung Kim increased her advantage over the rest of the field at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters to lead by three shots heading into the final round. The 21-year-old South Korean added a score of 67 to previous rounds of 70 and 65 to move to 14 under at the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club.

Kim saw off the challenge of Michelle Wie during the course of the third round, the American dropping four shots today to slip six behind the leader. That paved the way for Sweden's Anna Nordqvist to motor into second place on the back of a third-round 65, which took her to 11 under for the tournament.

Fellow Swede Maria Hjorth shot a 67 to move into third, a stroke behind her compatriot, while Wie's difficult day saw her tied for fourth after a lacklustre 71, alongside Gwladys Nocera, Amy Yang and Tania Elosegui.

Kim started well when she chipped in from 20 feet for birdie at the par-four second and picked up another shot at the par-five third.

A bogey on the eighth was a setback, but Kim regained a two-stroke lead after she holed a clutch birdie putt at the ninth for an outward total of 33. She came back in 34 after birdies on 13, 14 and 17. "I'm very happy with how I played today," said Kim. "I played very solid again. I made some putts and left some putts, but I tried hard, and I think five under is not bad."

Elsewhere, battle is joined in the race to seal the Ladies European Tour's official Henderson Money List title with just a stroke separating the top-two ranked players, Sophie Gustafson and Catriona Matthew.

Matthew will start the final round a stroke clear of Gustafson at six under in a share of eighth with Jade Schaeffer, Melissa Reid, Vikki Laing and Laura Davies. Gustafson will begin the day in 13th at five under overall.