European holds 54-hole Masters lead for third straight year

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It’s been another impressive European showing at the 2012 Masters and for the third year in a row, a player from the continent holds the 54-hole lead at Augusta National.

After Lee Westwood two years ago and Rory McIlroy last year, Sweden’s Peter Hanson will take a one-shot lead into the final round after shooting a stunning 65 on Saturday.

After a disappointing 74 on Friday, Hanson’s sizzling Saturday took him to nine-under par, one shot ahead of American Phil Mickelson.

No Swede has ever won a major championship, but Hanson has made the most birdies of anyone in the field this week with 16 and is the only player besides Rory McIlroy to finish in the top five in both World Golf Championships this year.

Hanson has also finished in the top five in five of his past nine starts, dating to December. He started that month 53rd in Official World Golf Rankings and entered Masters week 25th.

Hanson will play with Mickelson tomorrow, the man that defeated him 4&2 in the singles of the last Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

"We've played a lot of golf together," said Hanson. "It's just great to play in front of crowds like this with the support being for him. Hopefully I can feed off that a little bit."

Fellow Swede Henrik Stenson is the next best-placed European golfer five shots behind Hanson along with three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington, who shot 68 to lie tied-fifth.

England's Lee Westwood entered day three one shot behind but suffered with a cold putter and shot a level-par 72 to finish five shots behind at four-under.

Fellow Englishman Ian Poulter had a better round on Saturday, firing six birdies in a round of 70 to lie at two-under par.

On a day where scoring generally was high, Scotland’s Paul Lawrie fired a solid round of 72 to finish six shots back of Hanson while Italy’s Francesco Molinari bogeyed his final two holes to shoot 70 and finish on two-under par.

Other Europeans faltered on Saturday, however, most notably world number two Rory McIlroy who entered the day just one behind but finished 10 shots behind after a disastrous round of 77.

It was also a disappointing day for Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shot 75 and 76 respectively.

The last European to win the Masters was Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.