Hedblom blossoms

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The Independent Online
PETER HEDBLOM lost his magic but kept his lead in the Moroccan Open here yesterday. Four strokes clear at the halfway stage after superb rounds of 68 and 67, the 26-year-old Swede managed only a third-round 74 to fall back to a seven-under-par 209. But, with his closest overnight challenger, Phillip Price, taking 76, Hedblom - chasing his first European Tour victory - goes into today's final round with the same four-stroke advantage. In joint second place are Scottish rookie Raymond Russell, Zimbabwe's Tony Johnstone and the Argentine Eduardo Romero.

"I've never led with a round to go before so obviously I'm going to be nervous," Hedblom said. "But I will look on it as experience - if I don't do it this time it will help the next time I'm in contention." He bogeyed the first, 10th and 12th holes to open the door to the pursuing pack but holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 15th and, after three-putting the next, put a gloss on his day's work by pitching to six feet at the 555-yard 18th. "Making that putt made the round feel better. It felt important," he said.

Ian Woosnam, twice a winner already this season, threatened to turn the screw on Hedblom when he went to the turn in 32. He was joint third at that stage but five bogeys in a his back-nine 39 sent him back to level par and seven adrift.

"If I shoot 67 in the final round I could still win," Woosnam said. "It was just my driving that went really. I was up and down like a yo-yo. I need to be more consistent, and maybe next week I'll change to a driver with a softer shaft. I don't think I'm strong enough for this one any more."

Russell, a member of the 1993 Walker Cup side who finally came through the tour qualifying school at the third attempt in November, is playing only his second event of the season. After a round of 70 he said: "It's nice to be in this position. If I concentrate I should be all right."

He blamed bad decision- making for a closing bogey six. With only 105 yards to go for his pitch he was tempted to fire at the flag, but pulled it a fraction and, from the fringe, three-putted. "I paid the price and it leaves a bitter taste," said the 25-year-old from Longniddry who was third on last year's Tartan Tour.

His namesake, David A Russell - Kent-born but based in Los Angeles - is in the group on one under and delighted just to be playing, let alone playing well. He has come through a two-year battle with cancer and a cyst behind his heart. Last week he finished 15th in the Catalan Open, his first tournament for almost 12 months, and he lies joint eighth overnight.

Four tumours were removed in an eight-hour operation last summer and it was not until January that the 38-year-old hit his first balls since last February's Madeira Open. "I had the world at my feet in 1994 when I had cards to play both the American and European tours - but then boom," he said. "You really appreciate life after going through what I've been through."

Johnstone, a former Volvo PGA champion, is enjoying life again too after suffering for 11 months from chronic fatigue caused by a parasite getting into his intestine. "I'd forgotten how much fun this game can be," he said after also shooting a 70.

Price's problems started when he double-bogeyed the 442-yard seventh and he then finished with three bogeys in a row to card a four-over par 76 and tumble off the leaderboard.