Defending champion Pieters takes sole lead at Czech Masters

VYSOKY UJEZD, Czech Republic (AP) — Defending champion Thomas Pieters is by himself at the top of the Czech Masters leaderboard after shooting a 2-under 70 in Saturday’s third round for a two-stroke lead.

The Belgian began the round sharing the lead with Jeff Winther of Denmark but moved ahead after three birdies at the front nine and another birdie on the 10th.

But Pieters fell back with two straight bogeys on the 11th and 12th for a 12-under 204 total at the Albatross Golf Resort near Prague.

“I think there were too many poor shots today,” Pieters said. “I had some good looks at birdie down the stretch but I didn’t hit enough good putts and the greens were a little bumpy at the end … It was the same last year, I was one ahead, so I’ve been in this position and hopefully I can just use what I learned the last time.”.

Pieters, who finished fourth on Sunday at the Olympic course in Rio de Janeiro, won the Czech Masters last year for his first European Tour victory.

Paul Peterson of the United States produced the best third round with an 8-under 64 to equal the course record. After a flawless round with eight birdies, Peterson surged to second with a 10-under 206.

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“I had no idea I was anywhere near the course record,” Peterson said. “I figured somebody went crazy out here but it’s awesome to hear and I’m really happy with that round.”.

Winther is a shot further back after carding 73, tied for third with Englishman Robert Rock, who had seven birdies for a 7-under 65.

Pieters would need a win here and again at Made In Denmark next week to automatically qualify for the European Ryder Cup team.

Another Ryder Cup hopeful, Matthew Fitzpatrick, is five strokes behind the leader in a tie for sixth with four other players: Englishmen Charlie Ford, David Howell and Ryan Evans, and David Lipsky of the United States.

Fitzpatrick is currently in the last spot for the automatic Ryder Cup qualifying.

Lee Westwood, who hopes to be a Ryder Cup wildcard pick, carded 70 for a 4-under 212.

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