SHANGHAI – Graeme McDowell lost command of the HSBC Champions. At least he kept the lead.
McDowell rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole Saturday that stretched his lead to four shots. That was his final birdie on a cold, gray afternoon at Sheshan International. He finished with a 1-under 71 and saw his lead dwindle to a single shot over Hiroshi Iwata of Japan.
''Let's be honest. Yes, I had a three-shot lead overnight and it's only one now,'' McDowell said. ''But I'll take this position any week that you offer it to me – a one-shot lead going into the last round on a golf course that I enjoy. Looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow.''
McDowell was at 11-under 205.
He will try to complete a wire-to-wire victory for his first World Golf Championship. If Saturday was any indication, it won't be easy. Not only did he lose ground on the back nine by making mostly pars, several players got back into the mix.
Rickie Fowler overcame a double bogey on No. 9 with a 32 on the back nine for a 69. He was three shots behind, along with Tim Clark (69). Ian Poulter wasn't at his best with the putter and had to settle for a 72, though he remained in the mix just four shots behind with Thorbjorn Olesen (69).
Iwata was a gate-crasher on a leaderboard top-heavy with major champions. McDowell had never heard of him until this week, and only saw him swing the club once in the group ahead. He referred to him as one of the ''great young players'' from Japan, unaware that he was 33 and in his 10th full season on the Japan Golf Tour.
He can't be faulted for that. Iwata has one career victory – the Fujisankei Classic – and that was only two months ago.
But he made six birdies on a day when the ball wasn't going anywhere, and neither were the players. It took some 5 1/2 hours to complete the round. Iwata rolled in a long birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 68 that put him in the final group.
''Maybe tomorrow coming up the last few holes, I might get a little bit nervous, but so far I'm calm,'' Iwata said. ''So I think I'm doing OK.''
Kaymer won the HSBC Champions three years ago by closing with a 63, and the German showed he was up to that kind of performance again. He made seven birdies against only one bogey for a 66 that put him in the last group with McDowell and Iwata.
Watson looked powerful as ever and might be leading if not for one troublesome patch at the start of the back nine. With a sand wedge, Watson came up woefully short and caught a plugged lie in the bunker. He blasted out some 40 feet away and three-putted for a double bogey. He missed a short par putt two holes later.
As usual, the final stretch at Sheshan International saved him.
Watson hit his approach to 2 feet on the tough 15th, hit wedge to 3 feet on the 16th for another birdie, and then gouged out a wedge from deep rough that awed the Chinese crowd when it descended from the gray sky and plopped down next to the cup for a final tap-in birdie and a 69.
''A couple three-putts today and a double bogey. That's sad,'' Watson said. ''But the birdies down the stretch really helped out.''
Not to be forgotten was his best shot of the day, a long iron over the creek that nearly went into the hole for an albatross 2 on the par-5 eighth hole. The ball settled just over 3 feet from the hole, except that Watson missed that and had to settle for a birdie.
McDowell had a long three-putt bogey on No. 8 and his lead was down to two shots. But on the 10th, it appeared order would be restored. McDowell rolled in the 30-foot birdie putt up the ridge as Watson was taking double bogey, and the lead suddenly was four shots.
That's as large as it got.
McDowell really only missed on a couple of shots. He faced 240 yards to a narrow opening to the green on the par-5 14th. Wanting to avoid the bunker just left of the green, he pulled it into deep rough and took away his chances of an easy up-and-down. He also hit a sand wedge some 25 feet beyond the cup on the short 16th, where Watson and Poulter birdied to close the gap.
''I felt maybe a tiny bit negative coming in,'' McDowell said. ''But when I went back and sort of thought through my round, you know, it was difficult. ... I wouldn't say I felt loose coming in, but I also knew it wasn't something I had to start protecting. I hit a lot of good putts today that didn't go in, and that's probably the main difference between shooting 1 under and 3 or 4 under today.''