MELBOURNE: Australian left-hander Nick O'Hern fired an eight-under par 63 to fend off the chasing pack and lead the US$1.55mil Heineken Classic after the third round yesterday.
O'Hern, still feeling the effects of a knee operation late last year, forged to a one-stroke lead over compatriots Jarrod Lyle and Craig Parry on 14-under 199.
Lyle, who fought off leukaemia six years ago as a teenager, had a five-under 66 and three-time Australian Masters champion Parry carded six-under 65 to be on 13-under 200.
South Africa's world number three Ernie Els closed in on his fourth consecutive victory in the co-sanctioned European Tour event to be three strokes off the lead in fourth spot on 11-under 202 heading into today's closing 18 holes.
“I love to get myself into position and if I get in there and play for a championship on Sunday I feel I've got another chance although I made some mistakes today,” said Els, who had a five-under 66 with an eagle, six birdies and three bogeys.
“I was eight shots ahead last year and now I'm three behind, you just take it as it comes. Last year I played it flawlessly for three rounds and this year I've made quite a few mistakes but I'm still in there with a shout.
“It will take a bit of an effort tomorrow but I feel up for it and I feel I'll have a chance coming down the last holes.”
It is a clogged leaderboard after 54 holes with any one of eight golfers within five shots of O'Hern and in with a winning chance today.
O'Hern, who hasn't won an Australian tournament since the 1999 Coolum Classic, hung on early as playing partner Els exploded away with a birdie-eagle start at the opening two holes.
But O'Hern played solidly to go out in five-under and picked up three more birdies on the homeward nine holes to climb to the top of the leaderboard.
“I won back in Australia in 1999 so it's been a long time since my last home win and I had a chance in the Heineken when it was last played at the Vines (Perth) in 2001,” O'Hern said.
“If I keep putting myself in position I'm going to knock through that wall and once I win one tournament, I should be able to win a few more.”
O'Hern has rebounded from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last December for an injury from a fall which curtailed his tournament play.
“The walking's a bit of a problem but the golf's not,” said O'Hern, who ices his knee after each day's play.
Australian Brett Rumford was in joint fourth place with Els after a five-under 66, but Scotland's Colin Montgomerie lost ground yesterday with a one-over par 72 to be in 11th place on eight-under 205 and six shots behind O'Hern.
Montgomerie, who was the halfway leader with Australian Peter Lonard on nine-under, had a muddling round of three birdies and four bogeys on the homeward nine as he slumped from 12-under.
The leader throughout the tournament, Bo-bae carded a 10-under, three-round total of 206 in the season-opening European tour event to edge out Sweden's Charlotta Sorenstam (71) by one stroke.
Sorenstam, younger sister of top-ranked Annika Sorenstam, traded first place with Bo-bae throughout the day until the South Korean birdied the par-4, 338-meter (370-yard) 18th to avoid a sudden death playoff.