BRITISH MASTERS GOLF: Luke Donald hoping to close in on first European Tour title in three years at Woburn

England's Luke Donald during day three of the British Masters
England's Luke Donald during day three of the British Masters

The tournament he helped revive could provide Luke Donald with his first European Tour title in more than three years, just a month after he was sacked by his caddie.

Donald fired a flawless third round of 65 on the Marquess course at Woburn to finish three shots behind fellow Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Soren Kjeldsen and Fabrizio Zanotti are a shot off the lead on 11 under, with Shane Lowry, Richard Bland and Romain Wattel alongside Donald on nine under.

“I have got myself in a great position and I would love to go out there tomorrow and shoot another round like that,” said Donald, who admitted he was surprised when his caddie of six years, John McLaren, decided to end their partnership; first prize on Sunday is £500,000, of which most caddies would receive 10 per cent.

“I would just like to win any tournament to be honest, but it would be a little more special in the UK. It’s been a bit of a dry spell for me and I would love to get back in that winners’ circle.

“I want it more for confidence, just to know that I can do it again. I feel like good things are coming.”

Donald became world number one by beating Lee Westwood in a play-off for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2011 and successfully defended the title 12 months later.

However, that remains his last win on the European Tour after switching coaches at the end of 2013 in an attempt to become more consistent off the tee failed to pay off.

The partnership with Chuck Cook only lasted a year before Donald, now ranked 66th, went back to long-time coach Pat Goss and the 37-year-old added: “It’s been two years of probably too many thoughts in my head.

“It’s starting to get more automatic and I am concentrating on shots from 125 yards and in rather than having to grind so hard on the range.

“My swing is similar to what it was and better in certain areas. Some of the things I did with Chuck were good, like not having so much lateral shift in the downswing.”

Fitzpatrick played down comparisons between his game and that of Donald, but the pair do share a common link in Northwestern University, although Donald completed a degree in art history and practice while Fitzpatrick dropped out after a single term.

The 21-year-old from Sheffield is in his first full season after coming through the qualifying school last November, but is currently 36th on the Race to Dubai after four top-three finishes, three of them in his last seven events.

A third round of 68 kept the former US Amateur champion on course for a wire-to-wire victory, something he has tried to avoid focusing on all week.

“It’s impossible not to think about it, but my focus is to finish as high as possible and if it’s a win, it’s a win,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think when you’ve got six holes to play and you’re up there, then things might change.

“I’m really excited and looking forward to it already. It’s my second or third time in the last group, so I’m really looking forward to it. Some great names have won wire-to-wire. It would be nice to add mine to that.

“Luke is someone I’ve spent a little bit of time over the past couple of months. A lot of people say that (we are similar players) but I don’t think so. I think Luke’s short game is absolutely unbelievable, and that’s something I’m always working on.”

Donald, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose have helped to bring the British Masters back to the European Tour for the first time since 2008 by taking turns to act as tournament hosts.

Poulter unsurprisingly chose home course Woburn as the venue for this week and despite suffering a dreaded shank for the second day running, carded a third round of 70 to finish five under par.

Earlier in the day, Bradley Dredge was forced to withdraw just minutes before he was due to start his third round at only two shots off the lead.

The 42-year-old Welshman has been suffering from a viral infection and informed tournament officials he felt too ill to compete despite having the chance to win his first European Tour title since 2006.