Karlsson maintains four-shot lead in Hong Kong

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HONG KONG, Nov 17 (Reuters) Robert Karlsson dropped his first shot in 45 holes today but will still take a four-stroke lead into the final day of the Hong Kong Open after compiling a third round four-under-par 66.

The Swede, a renowned frontrunner, missed a nine-foot par putt at the tricky ninth hole to register his first dropped shot of the week but already had four birdies in the bag and added another at the 14th to move to a dominant 16-under.

Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez matched his playing partner's 66 and again stood alone in second place, a shot better off than South Korean K.J. Choi, Swede Peter Hanson, Australian Marcus Fraser and India's Shiv Kapur.

''You'd take a four-shot lead on any course but it is definitely a tricky course to try and pick up a lot of shots on,'' said Karlsson, who led going into the final round before winning in both Wales and Germany in 2006.

''If someone beats me then I can't do anything about that but my focus is on another good solid round tomorrow.'' After the best of the early starters were unable to get closer than a couple of shots behind Karlsson's overnight lead, the 38-year-old got off to blistering start with four birdies in his first five holes.

Despite his conservative approach to the course, Karlsson has occasionally flirted with danger this week and it was on the ninth green that his good fortune finally ran out.

''I left myself about eight or nine feet for par and it just lipped out,'' he said.

''It was going to happen sooner or later.'' Jimenez said he had tried to put pressure on Karlsson with a few early birdies of his own and had not given up hope of repeating his 2004 triumph here.

''We are humans and we will have to battle in the spirit of the game,'' the 43-year-old said.

DIFFICULT COURSE Hanson had seven birdies in his 65 and said his two dropped shots were a direct result of chasing a runaway leader on a difficult course.

''With Robert where he is, you have to play aggressively and sometimes you might hit a putt too hard,'' Hanson said.

Kapur and world number 12 Choi both shot 65s and look the most likely to end a nine-year stretch without an Asian winner of the 2.25 million dollar co-sanctioned tournament.

''The third round is all about getting into position for the final round and I think I have done that, so I am very pleased,'' said Choi, who led after a first round 62 before slumping to a 72 yesterday.

Former US Masters champion Mike Weir carded a 67 to move to a share of seventh with Australian Scott Strange and Swede Daniel Chopra on 10-under.

''I am knocking on the door but I just got to make the putts. Any of these days I could have shot low 60s,'' the Canadian said.

Fraser's flawless 64 was the joint best round of the day but the 29-year-old was not confident he could stop Karlsson winning his eighth European Tour title.

''Robert has always been a great frontrunner and once he gets in front he just seems to keep going... he'll be very hard to catch.'' REUTERS SSC KN1710

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