Els in Total Command Down Under


PERTH, Australia -- Ernie Els set a few records on Saturday as he fired an 8-under 64 to take a commanding lead through three rounds of the Johnnie Walker Classic. The South African stands at 23-under-par 193 and owns a nine-shot lead over Craig Kamps and Jean-Francois Remesy at Lake Karrinyup Country Club.
Els established a new European Tour 54-hole record for lowest score in relation to par with his 23-under. He eclipsed the old mark of 22-under which Vicente Fernandez set at the 1975 Benson & Hedges Festival Tournament.
The reigning British Open champion narrowly missed the European Tour record for lowest score through 54 holes. Tiger Woods needed only 192 strokes through three rounds at the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational but Els was able to snatch one record away from Woods on Saturday. Els' 193 broke Woods' old 54-hole tournament mark of 198 from the 2001 Johnnie Walker Classic.
'I'm really happy with the way I'm hitting the ball at the moment,' said Els, ranked second in the world. 'I've really enjoyed my week so far.'
Els held a four-stroke lead at the start of Saturday's third round but wasted little time in extending that margin. He drained a three-foot birdie putt at the first and rolled home a 35-footer for eagle at the third to build a five-shot lead.
At the fifth, Els sank an eight-foot birdie putt and nearly holed an eagle chip at the seventh. He settled for a tap-in birdie at the par-5 hole and a front-nine, 5-under 31.
Els continued his outstanding form on the second nine with a two-foot birdie putt at the par-5 11th. He collected back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14 to build an eight-shot lead but ran into trouble at an unlikely spot.
Els eagled the par-5 15th in the first two rounds but on Saturday the three-time major winner hit a poor second shot into the left rough. He duffed his chip but his fourth shot nearly found the bottom of the cup before running six feet past the hole. Els missed the par save to dip to 22-under par and see his lead shrink to six as Remesy got up to 16-under par.
The Big Easy would not be fazed. He knocked a 7-iron 20 feet short of the stick at the 17th and rolled home the putt for birdie. When Remesy bogeyed the last two holes, Els' lead was nine and the record book was altered.
'Everyone assumes this is a nice position to be in, and don't get me wrong it is, this is what we play for over the first three days to take a lead into the final round,' said Els. 'But it is never that easy and in my mind the tournament is not over. I don't know how I will approach tomorrow yet. I will wait and see what the weather is like before deciding how we go about things.'
Despite what's in Els's head, the South African looks well on his way to the winner's circle on Sunday, a place he has frequented in 2003. Els opened the 2003 PGA Tour season with another record-setting performance, this one came at the Mercedes Championships and he earned a playoff victory over Aaron Baddeley the next week at the Sony Open. Three weeks ago he successfully defended his title at the Heineken Classic the following week.
Kamps shot a 64 on Saturday, while Remesy posted a 67 in the third round. Remesy, however, is realistic in his chances on Sunday.
'I don't think there is any way I or anyone can catch Ernie Els with a nine- shot lead, especially the way he is playing,' said Remesy, 'If I finish second it will be a great result for me because I have played well the whole week.'
Retief Goosen, the 2002 champion, made a move up the leaderboard Saturday with a 6-under 66. He is tied for fourth place with David Smail (64), Andre Stolz (67) and Stephen Leaney (68). The group is 10 off the lead at 13-under-par 203.
Craig Spence matched the course record at Lake Karrinyup Saturday with a 9- under-par 63. Gary Player established the mark in 1974 and Goosen equaled it last year. Spence is alone in eighth place at minus-12.

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