|Sergio Garcia is playing at his home course this week, looking for his first win in three years. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)
CASTELLON, Spain -- Nearly three years without a win seems like almost forever when you're Sergio Garcia.
A former No. 2 in the world rankings, Garcia claimed his 18th and last professional victory in the first tournament of the 2009 season, but has come up empty since.
The Spaniard went a long way toward ending the drought Saturday, distancing himself from the Castello Masters field with a seven-under 64 to quadruple his lead to eight after 54 holes.
Garcia is playing at his home course this week, and that comfort level has returned his confidence and has the five-time Ryder Cup participant playing at a level to which he had once grown accustomed. He began slowly on Saturday, but ended at 19-under 194 and is the heavy favorite entering Sunday's final round.
"It's amazing," Garcia said of the home crowd. "It's just a special feeling. I think I only really get this feeling when I play in the U.K. in the British Open or Ryder Cups there. The energy of the crowd is amazing, so it's nice."
The winless stretch nearly ended earlier this year at the BMW International Open, but Garcia missed a four-foot putt on the fifth playoff hole to lose out to Pablo Larrazabal. Garcia had an excellent chance to win in regulation, but four bogeys in a five-hole stretch in the final round cost him dearly.
This time around, Garcia is trying to make sure a playoff isn't necessary, recovering from an early bogey to post an eagle and six birdies over the final 12 holes Saturday at Club de Campo del Mediterraneo.
Thongchai Jaidee has the distinction of distant second at the moment after his five-under 66 on Saturday put him at 11-under 202 overall. He'll be in the final grouping come Sunday, but will be hard-pressed to catch Garcia.
Ross McGowan (69) finished with two birdies to move into third at 10-under, while Richie Ramsay (68), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (69) and Anthony Wall (69) share fourth at minus-nine.
Garcia entered the day with a two-shot lead, but quickly saw it dwindle to one following a bogey on the third hole. He squandered several birdie chances early and was one-over through six, but burst onto the scene at the seventh.
"You saw the beginning. There's still a couple things there that I would like to improve on," said a modest Garcia. "It's getting better. More and more confidence. I'm going to have to be very focused (tomorrow)...I need to make sure I know what to do."
He made a lengthy birdie putt at the seventh to get back to 12-under, and he hit his second at the par-five eighth to within 15 feet before knocking in the eagle putt to extend his lead to four.
Garcia maintained his large advantage with four straight pars through the 12th, but finished the round with an incredible five birdies in six holes.
He made a tap-in birdie at the par-five 13th before a seven-footer for birdie at the 14th put him at 16-under and five clear of Jaidee. Garcia birdied the 15th with a 20-foot putt from off the green and made a 12-footer for his fourth straight birdie at the par-three 16th.
Just to cap off an incredible round, Garcia finished with a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, likely changing only the final margin of victory come Sunday's last round.
"It's well set up. It's not over," Garcia said. "Anybody can shoot a round like I did the last couple days. If I take a little hiccup here and there like I did early on, it'll cost me. I need to stay focused."
NOTES: Garcia has held the 54-hole lead seven previous times on the European Tour and has finished first in four of them and runner-up in the other three...The last 54-hole lead for Garcia was at this tournament in 2008, when he went on to victory...Garcia has made all but one cut in 22 worldwide events this year.