Harrington takes over at the top

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The Independent Online

There will be nothing routine about the winner of the BMW International at Nord Eichenreid today. A first victory in six years for John Daly would be remarkable in itself; Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn do not get themselves on the winner's podium often enough; and there is also the tournament within the tournament to be considered.

It is still possible for a player to win here to earn a spot on the European Ryder Cup team, and Thomas Levet, the British Masters champion, gave himself just that opportunity with a third round of 64.

This is the last counting event towards qualification for the European team, with the top-10 claiming their places automatically and then the captain Sam Torrance adding his two wild cards – virtually certain to be Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik – to face the Americans at The Belfry at the end of this month.

All this matters little to Daly, who has never played in the event despite twice winning major championships, or Harrington or Bjorn, the defending champion. Harrington tied the course record with a 62 to reach 22 under par after going to the turn in 29. After two pars to start, he birdied five of the next six holes and eagled the sixth.

Daly, who started the day four ahead of the field, also eagled the sixth but could not give himself as many birdie opportunities as he had managed during his opening two rounds of 63 and 64. Nevertheless, there was a steadiness about the former "Wild Thing" which helped him to avoid dropping a shot and a 68 left him only one stroke behind Harrington with Bjorn two further back.

Harrington needed to finish second here two years ago to play at Brookline and did just that. This time, along with Bjorn, he is already secure of a place but could do with improving his ratio of runner-up finishes to wins.

A win by any of the leading trio would do for Phillip Price, who is at home in Newport after missing the cut. Price came into the tournament as the 10th man on the Ryder Cup points table and the chances of the 34-year-old Welshman retaining his automatic qualifying spot were increased when his nearest challengers, Ian Poulter and Miguel Angel Jimenez, missed the cut.

However, 10 players still remain in with a mathematically of bumping Price out of the team. Levet is one of those who has to win to do so but after moving up to 16 under par that is no forlorn possibility. The Parisian, 33 later this week, was certainly happier than the previous night when he showered in his hotel room only to find out that, strangely for Germany, no towel had been laid out.

"I lose my head," he said. "It was freezing. I had to use a shirt because it took half an hour for some towels to arrive. And then they came three times so now I have eight." Even after bogeying the first hole, Levet, whose confidence has soared since winning at Woburn in June, was not about to throw in the towel.

"Now when I miss a shot, it does not matter to me so much," he said. "Like today, when I bogeyed the first, I thought it was just one bogey, I can birdie the other 17."

He did not quite manage that but picked up four shots on the way out and then made five birdies in a row from the 11th.

Levet has used a lucky shamrock ball marker since he found one outside the recorder's hut at Woburn just before going on to win a four-man playoff. He later found out, after playing with Torrance at the K Club, that the Ryder Cup captain had dropped it.

"Suddenly, I noticed there were two markers the same on the green and Sam said he had dropped one at Woburn," he said. "He gave me another, so hopefully it is a lucky omen. I feel I still have a little chance tomorrow. It was my goal when I came here to win and now I am in the hunt, it is possible. I really feel I can handle the pressure. The more the pressure there is, the calmer I am. In practice, I can never make a putt. But the tougher the situation, the better I do."

Dean Robertson, the last man who can get in at 23rd on the list, has been in the running since a 64 on the opening day but, such has been the low scoring here, a 69 that left him at 14 under probably means he is just too far back. Jose Maria Olazabal, on the same mark, never recaptured the brilliance of his 62 on Friday and had to settle for a 70 while Garcia certainly thinks he has little chance at 13 under.

Garcia made a tremendous effort to get back into contention with five birdies on the back nine but then bogeyed the last, his par putt from 15 feet just finishing on the edge of the hole. "I got a little greedy with my driver at the last, trying for an eagle, and went in the water," he said.

A victory for Garcia would have allowed Torrance to pick both his countryman, Olazabal, and his partner from Brookline, Parnevik. "I have been trying as hard as I could, as Jose has," Garcia said. "If he doesn't get in I will be very sorry for him, but I will feel for Jesper if he doesn't make it. It's a sad thing. I'd like both to be there."

With some heavy rain and a stronger wind, conditions were tougher than on days one and two. Play was delayed by two hours by overnight downpours, but with several players holding tickets for last night's big match at the Olympic Stadium, the pace of play was refreshingly brisk.

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