Andrew Butterfield is within sight of his maiden Challenge Tour title after opening up a six stroke lead on day three of The Princess.
Another sumptuous display of strokeplay – Butterfield carded four birdies and not a single bogey in his round of 67 – moved the Englishman to 15 under par, with Finland’s Antti Ahokas his nearest challenger on nine under par.
The 36 year old, who recently became a father for the first time, has three runner-up finishes to his name – at the Russian Open and Challenge de France in 2005, and the Dutch Challenge in 1997.
But having seen most of his rivals falter over the final holes at Båstad GK in Båstad, Sweden, Butterfield believes he may never have a better chance of banishing his bridesmaid tag and collecting the €48,000 first prize.
He said: “It’s a big week, and it’s going to be a big day tomorrow. Obviously I’ll be doing my utmost to win. I’ve been playing well all season, and I’ve taken my game up another level here this week. I’ve been chipping and putting better than I’ve ever done, and that obviously breeds confidence. If I can hold it together tomorrow, I’ll have a great chance.
“There were a fair few people out following us today, and hopefully there will be a few more tomorrow. It’s always nice to play in front of a crowd, and hopefully I can put on a show for them. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll probably be a little bit nervous, but that’s why we play the game, for days like these. I’d certainly rather be going out in the last group at mid-day than the first one at 6.30am!”
“It’d be great to win any event, but particularly this one. Not only is there a big prize fund on offer, but the event has been so well organised. I can’t think of another tournament we’ve played this year that’s been as well run as this has been, from the food in the players’ lounge to the transport from the hotels to the golf course. So it feels like a European Tour event in many ways, and it’s been a real pleasure to play in.”
Butterfield will be joined in the final group by Ahokas, who signed for a round of 69 which had at one point threatened to explode into life.
Five birdies in his opening 12 holes had temporarily moved Ahokas to within one shot of Butterfield’s lead, but two dropped shots in his closing five holes saw the Finn drop fall to nine under par.
Ahokas said: “I played really well for the first 12 or 13 holes – I can’t remember playing that well for a very long time. I was really flying. But then I started missing a few short putts, and it kind of faded away at the end. So I was really disappointed with the finish, but I’m still pretty happy. Saturday’s moving day, and I certainly did that – although I would’ve liked to move more!
“I really enjoy playing on the Challenge Tour – I’m a lot more relaxed, and I think that’s showed. I’m going to have to make a decision fairly soon on which Tour I’m going to concentrate on more for the rest of the season, and at the moment I’m probably leaning more towards the Challenge Tour. But that’s for another time – I’ve got a big day ahead of me first.”
Germany’s Christoph Günther, who won in Austria earlier this season, is in third place on eight under par after signing for a round of 69.
Jens Dantorp is in a group of eight players one shot back on seven under par, after the young Swede compiled a round of 67. Dantorp is playing his first Challenge Tour event, but made it look easy with seven birdies.
He said: “The game feels easy at the moment, but I’m sure I will have some bad days ahead. But for now, I’m just going to enjoy the moment. I’m probably too far back to win, but if I can get in the top ten or top five, I’ll take a lot of confidence from that. My main aim this season is to get my full Challenge Tour card for next year, and a good week here would certainly help.”
Earlier in the day, Gunther’s compatriot Dennis Kupper and his playing partner Richard McEvoy both recorded their first aces in tournament play, just two holes apart. Kupper’s came at the tenth hole, before McEvoy repeated the feat at the 12th to earn his own bottle of champagne, kindly donated by the promoters.