Forsyth holds on as season reaches a thunderous end

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Scotland's Alastair Forsyth will take a three-stroke lead over Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter into the final round of the Volvo Masters today. Forsyth, who compiled a best-of-the-day 67, finished with two birdies in the last three holes in the gloaming after resuming the third round following a thunderstorm. "It was a shame the break came when it did, but my finish made up for that," said Forsyth. "I was nervous at the start but I handled it well. Tomorrow will be a tough day, three shots may not be enough."

This is the season-ending tournament for the 2004 European Tour - only the top 60 on the Order of Merit were qualified, and 54 teed up on the Costa del not-so-Sol. Britain and Ireland's representatives account for 24 of those players, half from England and four each from Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

With the demise of Colin Montgomerie's game, the tartan army has been lagging behind. Looking at the world rankings does not provide much encouragement. Monty is still the leader, but he has slipped to 70th place, just ahead of Stephen Gallacher, who won the Dunhill Links Championship three weeks ago. But they are the only Scots in the top 100, and between 100th and 200th place there are only three more: Scott Drummond, Forsyth and Simon Yates, the Thailand-based former skier who plays on the Asian Tour.

Forsyth won the Malaysian Open two years ago, and although he did not claim a title last year he still improved on the Order of Merit to a career best of 19th. This season the forward trend has not continued, and he arrived here in 41st place on the money list.

A bogey at the opening hole yesterday, when he was playing with local hero Sergio Garcia in the final pairing, was not the required start. But from there the 28-year-old from Paisley was distinctly impressive. Birdies at the seventh and eighth were followed by another at the par-five 11th before he holed from 20 feet at the 13th to take a two-stroke lead. Forsyth dropped a shot on the resumption but then birdied 16 and the dangerous 17th to get to nine under par.

Garcia, cleared of possible disqualification in a rules drama on Friday evening, had a mixed day. He birdied the par-five fourth and the ninth with wedge shots that finished only a few feet away. In truth, though, he did not hit enough greens in regulation, and after failing to birdie the 11th he missed a six-inch putt to bogey the 12th. He missed a par putt at the 13th immediately after the break, and only a two at the 15th kept him in second place alongside Poulter.

The Englishman has played the back nine well all week, and chipped in for a three at the 16th before also birdieing the 17th. With the huge exception of the Ryder Cup, Poulter is highly critical of his season, and he has left it late to extend his streak of winning every year since 2000. His analysis of where he has gone wrong revealed that, in his first 11 events of the season, had he played the par fives in the same score as the winner, he would have been the man to triumph on eight of those occasions. Oh, the tortured soul of a professional golfer.

All 12 of the Ryder Cup team are present, but only Garcia and Poulter are among the seven players under par. Luke Donald, who had a fine start on Thursday, needs to finish at 13 under par to displace Ernie Els at the top of the stroke-average table, but at six over with a round to play that is now unlikely in the extreme.

Darren Clarke is six under for 53 of the holes he has played so far, but that does not include an 11 at the par-five 17th on Friday. He is actually playing rather well, and yesterday his only bogey in a round of 68 came at the 18th. This time, Clarke parred the controversial hole, and he celebrated by throwing his ball into the dreaded pond in front of the green which he had visited three times on Friday. The gallery gave him a great hand, first for crossing the water with his third shot, second for chipping close from right of the green, and then for tapping in.

"They obviously enjoyed my 11 more than I did yesterday," Clarke said. "It was a nice round of applause for my par but it is disappointing not to be in red numbers."