England’s Jason Palmer and Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, both bidding to capture their debut Challenge Tour titles, will carry a one shot lead into the final day of the Telenet Trophy.
Both men birdied the final hole at Royal Waterloo Golf Club, on the outskirts of the Belgian capital Brussels, to move to seven under par, one stroke clear of Lima’s compatriot José-Filipe Lima and Palmer’s fellow Englishman Oliver Whiteley.
Of the two it was perhaps Santos’ round of 68 which was the more polished, as Palmer’s putter rescued him on more than one occasion after some indifferent iron play on the back nine.
But the Englishman, who has already made quite an impression in his maiden Challenge Tour campaign, took the positives from a gritty round of 69 which got off to a thunderous start with three successive birdies.
He said: “I’m not quite sure how I shot a 69 today, but I’ll certainly take it! I couldn’t have got off to a better start, but on the back nine I hit a few wild shots which might have cost me on a another day.
“Fortunately my putter got me out of trouble a few times – I holed probably the best putt for bogey I’ve ever sunk on the 14th. It was only from 25 feet, but it had at last 12 feet of break.
“I’d bogeyed the 13th so if I made double there, my confidence might’ve taken a knock. But I holed it dead weight and then made two birdies on the way in, so if I do go on to win tomorrow, I might look back on that putt as the turning point.”
Santos arrived at the €160,000 event on the back of his best European Tour performance at last week’s Madeira Islands Open, where he finished in a tie for tenth place.
During his six-year Challenge Tour career the 28 year old has finished fourth on four previous occasions, but is now hoping to celebrate a first victory in the company of wife Rita and young daughter Victoria, who have travelled to Brussels with him.
He said: “I played much better than yesterday, maybe because the conditions were better but also because I was stronger mentally. If I can keep the same attitude that I had today and forget about the fact that it’s the final day then it will help me to relax, and that’s when I play my best golf. Of course there will be pressure, but I’m also going to enjoy it.”
His compatriot Lima’s fine recent form continued with a sparkling round of 67, which ended with an eagle three at the last hole for a six under par aggregate total.
The Portuguese has finished in the top six in his previous two outings, at the Mugello Tuscany Open and last week’s lucrative Madeira Islands Open, to climb to seventh place in the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Lima will now go in search of a first Challenge Tour victory since the 2009 ECCO Tour Championship, which would effectively seal a swift return to The European Tour.
He said: “I played very well today, and I’ve been playing well for the last few weeks. For the past two days I didn’t enjoy much luck on the greens with a few lip-outs, but today a few more putts dropped. It was a little less windy today but I actually enjoy playing in the wind, so I hope it blows tomorrow.
“Of course it would be great to win but even if I don’t, I know I’m now moving in the right direction again. I worked very hard on my swing with my coach over the winter in Morocco, and it seems to be paying off now. My confidence is coming back all the time.
“Last week in Madeira was a very big week for me, not just because I’m Portuguese but also because it’s one of the biggest prize funds we’ll play for on the Challenge Tour this year. It puts me in a great position in the Rankings, and hopefully I can climb even higher with another good round tomorrow.”
Whiteley’s name does not even appear on the Rankings after he opted to miss the start of the season and instead put in the hours on the practice range, but the move appears to have paid dividends after a round of 70 saw him join Lima in a share of third place.
He said: “It was a tough day and my long game didn’t feel particularly great at times, but my short game was in good working order so I managed to grind a score out. All I can do tomorrow is to play well, and if it brings me a win then great. If not, then at least I’ve given it my best shot, which is all I can ask.”
Branden Grace is in a rich vein of form, with two top tens to his name in just four appearances so far this season, and the South African is on course to record another high finish after a round of 68 moved him to five under par.
Grace, who won on home soil on the Sunshine Tour last season, is still searching for his first Challenge Tour title, but will be brim full of confidence after closing with two birdies.
He said: “I played really nicely without making too many bogeys, but was just able to take advantage of the par fives. I made one stupid mistake with a three putt on the 14th, but other than that it was a very solid round of golf. I feel like my game’s good enough to win – now I just need to go out there and prove it. It’ll probably come down to the putting, so hopefully I can make my fair share.”
Like Grace, Christophe Brazillier is also winless in five seasons on the Challenge Tour, with a tied sixth finish at the 2007 Credit Suisse Challenge his best performance to date.
But the Frenchman has found patches of form of late with two top 15 finishes this term, and he continued his quest for a first European Tour card with a five-birdie round of 69 to join Grace in a share of fifth place.
He said: “Today it was much easier without the wind and rain, so I enjoyed my round much more. Probably the key holes were the 12th and 16th, where I saved par from the bunker. If I’d dropped shots I might have let my head go down, but they almost felt like birdies. I also holed out very well from inside two metres, and that might make the difference tomorrow.”
Belgian Pierre Relecom used his local knowledge to superb effect in a rousing round of 66 to surge into contention.
Like his younger sibling Jean, who notched a hole in one on the opening day of the €160,000 event, Relecom was born and raised a stone’s throw from Royal Waterloo Golf Club, where both brothers are attached.
Relecom started the day languishing in 49th place, but moved to within three strokes of the lead after carding seven birdies and a solitary bogey.