Marco Crespi maintained his lead after the third round of the Telenet Trophy despite a shaky one under par round of 70 which left him a shot clear of Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka, whose eagle at the par four 18th hole set up an intriguing final day in Belgium.
Crespi admitted he could feel the nerves stepping onto the first tee as the outright leader at Ravenstein Royal Golf Club of Belgium and it showed as the bogeyed the first, second and fourth holes.
The Italian steadied himself, however, and picked up shots at the sixth, ninth and 13th before a chip-in at the 14th hole moved him under par for the day. He looked like he would relinquish his outright lead after a bogey at the 17th hole but a birdie on the final hole meant he remained in the driving seat for a first Challenge Tour title.
“I played pretty badly today,” said the 33 year old. “My game was completely at odds with my previous two rounds. I missed a lot of fairways with the driver and a lot of greens with my approaches.
“I hit only 24 or 25 putts today so that was the only thing that kept me in it and gave me a one under par round. I was very nervous this morning but I tried to focus and play it shot by shot. This helped me hit a few good shots here and there so it wasn’t so bad.”
Kaleka was right on Crespi’s tail after an eventful finish to his round. The 25 year old stepped onto the 16th tee three under par for the day and tied for the lead but took a big gamble by trying to clear trees with his approach from the rough. That didn’t go to plan, however, and he carded a triple bogey seven.
His impulsive streak did bear fruit on the 304 yard par four 18th hole when his drive rolled to within 16 feet of the pin and with the anticipating crowds watching on, he held the putt to move right back up the leaderboard into second place.
“It was really cool to finish like that,” said Kaleka, who won the ALLIANZ EurOpen de Lyon in 2009 on his Challenge Tour debut.
“I played really well today so I was disappointed to be level par on the 18th tee. I just missed my tee shot on the right side on the 16th and I decided to play over the trees but it was an impossible shot.
“It probably was down to overconfidence, maybe my Latin blood, but it wasn’t very smart! I played aggressive today because it’s a short course and if you drive well you can get close to the greens so that’s what I tried today and it went well on some holes and bad on others.
“I'm confident going into tomorrow. I think I can score well and I’ll try to shoot a low score and we’ll see what happens.”
Olly Whitely was a shot further back in third place on seven under par after a steady one under par round of 70.
Playing with the leader Crespi, the Englishman birdied the second hole and parred every hole up until the 17th, where another birdie moved into the lead briefly before a bogey on the 17th left him two shots off the lead.
Spain’s Carlos Aguilar, Jurgen Maurer of Austria and Italian Andrea Perrino shared fourth place on seven under par but on a day when low scores were at a premium, Eddie Pepperell’s six under par round of 65 provided one of the stories of the day after he put his change in fortunes down to a YouTube video tutorial from none other than Luke Donald.
The 21 year old from England won on his first appearance this year at the ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne two weeks ago but was struggling around the greens in the opening two days in Belgium.
He still made the cut, however, and he had a YouTube video lesson on the short game featuring Donald to thank for his emergence as he launched himself right into contention.
“I watched some short game stuff with Luke Donald this morning on YouTube,” said Pepperell, who won the Portuguese Amateur Championship in an impressive amateur career. “I was struggling with chipping and pitching and the feel around the greens so I watched some of his stuff.“I love watching him, the way he plays and his short game so a few of his tips really helped me out there around the greens.”