Monty gives up chase as Els hits top form

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South African Ernie Els takes a six-shot lead over Colin Montgomerie into tomorrow's final round of the Million Dollar challenge at Sun City to set up the biggest pay-day of his career.

South African Ernie Els takes a six-shot lead over Colin Montgomerie into tomorrow's final round of the Million Dollar challenge at Sun City to set up the biggest pay-day of his career.

Hitting eight birdies and an eagle, local favourite Els blazed his way to a course record-equalling 64 despite his first dropped shots in 42 holes.

Els, who led by two strokes going into today's third round, picked up where he left off and fired three birdies in the first four holes.

He stuttered at the par-three seventh, and again at the eighth, but responded with an eagle on the very next hole.

"The break came just at the right time. With an eagle the swing can go either way," said a relaxed Els after a scintillating round of golf at the Gary Player Country Club.

Montgomerie may not have dropped a shot as he moved to 13-under-par but had no answer to Els' putting and approach play, which put him under pressure on every green of their match.

"Ernie Els will win this tournament. There's no doubt in my mind about that. My job now is just to hold on to second," said the Scot.

But the South African, stalking his first Million Dollar win here in eight attempts, is taking nothing for granted.

"I don't quite believe that," he said of Montgomerie's prediction. "But six shots is nice to take into the final round."

A weather break forced by the threat of lightning halted play with Els and Montgomerie on the 10th fairway, but it failed to break Els' rhythm, with the eagle on the ninth under his belt.

"I was on such a high and sometimes when I get that high I mess it up a little bit, but we went for lunch at the weather interval and I really played a good back nine. I missed the fairway on 14 but other than that I was focused."

Els' brilliant round eclipsed Darren Clarke who also equalled the course record and lies third on 11-under having come from three-under par overnight.

"I don't know what pills Ernie's on, but I want some," said the 31-year-old Irishman, who built on a brilliant start when he birdied the first three holes of the round.

Clarke is a shot ahead of American Jim Furyk, on 10-under having shot a 65 for the round, a stroke outside his best here when he became the first man to equal Nick Faldo's course record, set in 1994, with a 64 in last year's final round.

"I would bet on Ernie right now maybe beating the course record," said Furyk.

Defending champion Nick Price of Zimbabwe, bidding for his third victory in a row at the annual invitational event, shot four birdies and two bogeys and lies 11 shots off the pace alongside Spain's Sergio Garcia and England's Lee Westwood on eight-under for the tournament.

The 19-year-old Spaniard, joint third overnight, slipped down the leaderboard with bogeys on the third and again on the 15th, just after shooting an eagle on the par-five 14th.

Paraguay's Carlos Franco, ranked 21 in the world, hit a 68 to go to six-under for the tournament, a shot ahead of American John Huston.

Open champion and early leader Paul Lawrie bogeyed the 11th and 12th to slip to four-under.

US Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal is level par after shooting a round of 73, while his compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez is one-over par, despite hitting a 69 for his best round of the tournament.

Third-round scores in the Million Dollar Challenge, Sun City, South Africa

197 E Els (Rsa) 67 66 64203 C Mongomerie (Sco) 66 69 68205 D Clarke (NIrl) 72 69 64206 J Furyk (USA) 70 71 65208 N Price (Zim) 68 72 68, S Garcia (Spa) 71 67 70, L Westwood (Eng) 68 70 70210 C Franco (Par) 70 72 68211 J Huston (USA) 67 76 68212 P Lawrie (Sco) 65 76 71216 JM Olazabal (Spa) 69 74 73217 MA Jiminez (Spa) 76 72 69