Darren Clarke used every ounce of his vast experience to tame some severe winds and take a one shot lead after a sublime third round 65 in the Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters at Clandeboye GC.
With the fierce wind swirling and gusting round the 6761 yard, par 71 terrain, the World Number 13 produced a fantastic finish of an eagle and three birdies in his last five holes to finish on ten under par take a one shot lead from Jon Lupton – who posted a 73 for a nine under total of 204.
Clarke started with a bogey, but didn’t disappoint the huge crowds following him by going onto to produce a magical round, that was finished off with a wonderful 30 foot putt on the 18th for birdie on this, the European Challenge Tour’s first ever tournament in Northern Ireland.
“I played well again – and putted very well today, but you have to on a day like this. Wind like that makes everything difficult so overall 65 was very good,” said Clarke, who will donate all of his winnings this week to his Junior Golf Foundation.
“It started off badly as well. I hit a good tee shot at the first but it rolled into the gorse and I decided to take a drop as opposed to going for it – discretion in the face of valour, or something like that!
“Then at the next I hit a good tee shot but missed the green and pitched on to about eight feet on the slope and I holed the downhill putt from there. I felt that was me off and running after that.
“Each round this week has got better and better, and I struck the ball a lot better today than I had in the past two rounds. It’s another step in the right direction And I’m now in a good position for the last day.”
Englishman Stuart Little is in third place on seven under after a fine 68, with Welshman Sion Bebb, Irishman Stephen Browne, Scotsman Greig Hutcheon and Michael Jonzon of Sweden all tied for fourth after respective rounds of 69, 66, 70 and 75.
“It was very testing out there,” said Little. “It was a day where you had to be patient, and a day when you knew that even some of your good shots would be punished by the wind.
“I haven’t actually been playing that well recently, but I think, to a certain degree, that might have helped me because I managed to stay patient, and now I don’t think I could be in a better position for the last round.”
Browne’s 66 was a Challenge Tour personal best, and the Dubliner was delighted with his showing, considering the severity of the conditions.
“That was my best round on the Challenge Tour so far so I’m really pleased with it, especially when you consider the conditions – I thought, with the wind blowing so hard, that it was almost unplayable out there at points today.
“My playing partner, ryan reid, had to come away from his ball a couple of times on the slopey greens because the gusts of wind were so strong that his ball was moving around.
“I made a lot of chances today, and took a lot of them. I was putting really well and had few really good par saves. I holed from 45 feet on the third for birdie and from 40 on the 13th for birdie as well.”