England’s Gary Lockerbie will bid to break his Challenge Tour duck in the biggest tournament of them all when he takes a slender lead into the final round of the Kazakhstan Open.
With a €430,000 prize fund up for grabs the event carries huge significance, meaning a first Challenge Tour victory of Lockerbie’s career would guarantee the 25 year old an immediate return to The European Tour.
Lockerbie lost his playing privileges last year and, by his own admission, initially struggled to adapt to life back on the Challenge Tour. But a runner-up finish – the fourth of his career – at last week’s Qingdao Open provided a timely confidence boost, and a round of 66 at Nurtau Golf Club in Almaty, Kazakhstan, put him in sight of a maiden success.
That round moved Lockerbie to 13 under par, with his close friend Steven O’Hara of Scotland one shot off the pace, and current Number Two David Horsey of England a further two shots back in third place.
Lockerbie said: “It’s nice to be the leader going into the final round, because it hasn’t happened for a while! I’m just looking forward to tomorrow now. My game’s in pretty good shape at the minute – I played well in China last week, and it’s mainly been down to my putting. It also helped that I hit all 18 greens in regulation today. If you do that, you’re obviously going to give yourself plenty of birdie chances. I holed a long putt but I also missed a couple of five footers, so it could’ve been even better.
“I didn’t play well at all at the beginning of the year, so it’s taken a little while for my season to get into top gear. But I seem to be coming good at the right time, and hopefully I can finish it off tomorrow. It’s a big day for me, because there’s a lot to play for – it’d be nice to break my duck in the biggest event of the year. It’s not the be all and end all if I don’t win, as long as I can finish in the top ten in the Rankings come the end of the year. If I can, it will cap a great second half of the season. I’ll definitely have a better idea of what it takes if I do get my European Tour card back. It always takes a while to find your feet, but hopefully I’ve learned my lessons from last season and will make a better fist of it next time.”
Overnight leader O’Hara was on course to join Lockerbie at the head of affairs, only for consecutive bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes to derail his push, and he eventually signed for a round of 70 to move to 12 under par.
Overnight leader O’Hara was on course to join Lockerbie at the head of affairs, only for consecutive bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes to derail his push. He eventually signed for a round of 70 to move to 12 under par.
Like Lockerbie, the Scot is yet to win on the Challenge Tour; but whilst both men are equally desperate to end the drought, the Scot insists the outcome will not affect their friendship.
He said: “Maybe the pressure’s off me a little bit tomorrow, because I’m not leading any more. But I’m really looking forward to it. I’m good mates with Gary – we’ve been dining together most nights, so it should be fun. Because we know each other so well I’ll probably be a bit more relaxed, and hopefully that’ll help me go out and just play my natural game.
“I played pretty well today – I certainly couldn’t have shot any worse than a 70. I just three-putted three holes for bogey, which was disappointing. Two of them were unforgivable really – both from no more than about ten or 12 feet. I don’t mind three-putting as long as I give it a go, but on one of the holes I completely misread the putt and left it about four feet short. I bounced back with a nice eagle on the fourth though, so it was a bit of an up and down day.
“Hopefully I can get my putter working again for me tomorrow, because it’s a big day. If Gary shoots six or seven under, then there’s probably not much I can do about that. But if I shoot a 68, I’ll be in with a good chance. I’ve just got to avoid the bogeys, because the birdie chances will eventually come, particularly on the par fives. It’ll be great to win – somebody’s got to, and hopefully it’ll be me. I guess I’ll have to pick up the dinner tab if I do win!”
Horsey finished his round of 72 with a birdie, his fourth of the day, but was left to rue a triple bogey seven on the 15th hole. One shot behind Horsey on nine under par is Germany’s Richard Treis, who posted seven birdies in a round of 68.