It’s not quite a one-group show, but Marcus Fraser remains one of three great golden hopes at the Rio Olympics.
Fraser (-9) will join major champions Justin Rose (-12) and Henrik Stenson (-11) in tomorrow’s final group after the trio put a gap on the field at a windswept Barra de Tijuca course today.
After the field bunched up midway through the third round, the top three held their nerve and pushed clear, with three shots between Fraser and a group at six under.
Queenslander Scott Hend also played some occasionally brilliant golf to card a 71 and stay at one over, a tie for 36th with a round to play.
Fraser didn’t have the scoring power of his first two rounds, after which he led by a stroke.
But with wind whipping more than previous days, Fraser’s magical short game came to the fore to keep him in the hunt for the first Olympic golf medals in 112 years.
“If felt a little bit scrappy out there, and in these conditions it’s probably going to be that way.,” the Corowa-raised Melburnian said.
“The wind direction didn’t really suit me (and) it made a couple of those holes pretty long and I couldn’t even reach a couple of the par-fours.
“I didn’t play very well and I was a little bit off and in these conditions on this golf course, it feels like you’re a long way off.
“But I’m pretty happy I stuck in there, managed to make plenty of par saves and give myself a chance tomorrow.”
It was 2013 US Open champion Rose who made the biggest move, peeling off two eagles in just three holes on the front nine, then putting in from off the green on the 12th en route to a brilliant 65.
His short birdies on the 15th and 16th holes were preserved by a scrambled par on the 18th that prompted a little shimmy to replicate his ball’s slide into the right side of the cup.
Stenson, still on a high after last month’s Open Championship triumph, felt that magic return on the back nine as he charged home with a back-nine 33 to reach 11 under, one stroke adrift.
So the stage is set for a three-way shootout for the medals – a quest for which Fraser said he was pumped.
“You can’t hide from it, (the lure of a medal is) right there in front of you,” he said.
“If I play as hard as I can and it’s good enough to get a medal, so be it. I couldn’t think of anything better than to hang a medal around my neck.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come to the Olympics, now I’ve got a chance at winning a medal – if feels like I’m going to wake up from this dream at some point.
“But this is why we practise – we want to see what we’ve got in these situations. But hopefully I can just play a bit better tomorrow.
“If I play my best I can win, but I probably need those guys to be a little bit off, to be honest – their best is better than mine.
“But if I do a good job with my game I’m definitely a chance, that’s for sure.”
“I have had a game plan all week just to play the course and that won’t change a lot. I feel like I’m a fairly aggressive player … and I’ll continue to do that. You’ve just got to walk away knowing you’ve given it everything you can and hopefully that’s good enough.”
Hend played a spectacular – if not overly consistent – round to stay at his overnight score.
The Queenslander poured in six birdies to offset four bogeys and a double-bogey from the sands of the tough 11th hole.
Hend, who carded a quintuple-bogey 10 during his first round, still sits T35 and is playing well enough that had he cut out one loose hole each round, he’d have been right in the hunt.
"I just need to make more putts," Hend said.
"But team management is doing a great job keeping 'Frase' and I under control."
On a day of many high and lowlights, Bubba Watson made a charge for the second straight day, only to again fall back – this time in bizarre circumstances.
The dual Masters champion was mid-stroke on the 14th green when what he later said was a piece of mud came loose off his putter and he hit what should have been a 12m putt only 2m.
His two back-nine bogeys might have cost him a shot at glory tomorrow, but a birdie on 17 capped an otherwise impressive 67 that has him at six under overall.
The American is alongside mercurial Swede David Lingmerth and emerging Argentine Emiliano Grillo, who each fired 68 to leave them with an outside hope of glory.
For full scores, visit http://www.igfgolf.org/olympic-games/scores/