By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - John Senden held his ground in blustery winds to lead after the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday but world number four Justin Rose was just two strokes back and relishing the prospect of a final-round shootout.
Australian Senden, who led by a stroke at the same stage here last year only to finish second, snared an eagle at the 11th and three birdies in his round of two-under-par 70 to stand seven-under for the tournament and keep Rose at arm's length.
It was, however, the 2006 champion's pars on the last three holes that were more impressive as quickening winds gusting up to 55 kilometers per hour whipped across The Lakes course.
"It was a day of just trying to do my best to stay up there and it's nice to be leading the golf tournament," said Senden.
"I thought the last two holes were pretty much close to the edge ... it was so windy out there it was hard to hit the ball straight."
Rose, playing two groups in front of Senden, topped the leaderboard for the first time in the tournament with a 12-foot putt for his second birdie at the par-three seventh.
The Briton picked a couple more birdies just after the turn but suffered a buffeting in the wind late on and dropped shots on the last two holes to spoil his otherwise flawless 70.
"I hear the wind's going to switch and blow just as hard," said Rose. "Whoever literally stands up could win the golf tournament, it could be last man standing.
"I think it's going to be a battle ... but I'm excited. As long as it doesn't get out of control and blow too hard, it's going to be a fun day to try and hit some shots.
"It's going to be my last round of the year and I'd like to go out on a high note."
The 53-year-old Peter Senior, whose fourth and last European Tour win came two decades ago, hit a 69 to take a share of third place with Australian young gun Kieran Pratt (70) and Matthew Jones (69), three shots off the pace.
Nine-times U.S. PGA Tour winner Stuart Appleby, looking to bring a close to a frustrating two-year title drought, also had a good day was at the head of a group of three a further shot back after shooting a 70.
"I'm hitting it better," the 41-year-old said. "I hit it really well yesterday. I feel like I am coming back. I'd love to have made more progress a while back. You have to be patient. That is the beauty of this game. You have no real time period."
Adam Scott, the highest ranked Australian in the world at number seven, had another up and down round with five birdies and four bogeys for a 71, but is still in the hunt in a share of ninth at two-under.
American Tom Watson, who rolled back the years with a round of 68 to make the cut on Friday, had a miserable day with an eight-bogey 78 to match his opening round effort.
"It was ugly out there today for me, very ugly," the 63-year-old, eight-times major winner said after his round.
"I struggled on the practice area warming up, I didn't have any feel for the club and didn't put the clubface on the ball."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)