Charlie Ford put the troubles of a disappointing couple of seasons behind him, as he stormed into a share of the lead at the Swiss Challenge presented by Association Suisse de Golf thanks to a stunning seven under par third round 64.
The 29 year old was in stupendous form at the idyllic Golf Sempachersee, outside Lucerne, starting with three successive birdies before adding four more to his bogey-free card to move to the summit on 13 under par, one shot clear of Belgian Pierre Relecom.
It has been a marked improvement in fortunes for Ford this week, having endured a trying season so far, missing the cut in all of his seven previous events in 2014.
But he returned to the kind of form which earned him his first and only Challenge Tour title back in 2010 - when he claimed the inaugural Turkish Airlines Challenge - starting with a three at the par four first hole courtesy of a perfectly-judged 13 foot putt.
He holed an even bigger one at the second to pick up his second shot in as many holes before firing a perfect approach stone dead at the third and he never took his foot off the pedal after that. The Leicester player was delighted with his performance and put his remarkable turnaround down to a new putter.
“Birdieing the first three holes will always set you up quite nicely for the day,” said Ford. “I didn’t really go out with any expectations and then made a couple of nice putts on the first two holes, before hitting a nice shot into the third, and then you’ve got something to hold onto for the day. Luckily I managed to kick on after that.
“I was just trying to take it as it came because my results haven’t been particularly good this year and, even though I've been hitting it well the last couple of months, my putting has been terrible.
“I put a new putter in the bag this week and it’s been like a role-reversal, I haven’t been hitting it as well as I was in previous weeks but I've been making my fair share of putts.
“I've been playing well but it’s difficult to build any momentum when you’re not holing putts and on Monday I decided I had nothing to lose, so I’d try a new putter and it’s been working great for me.
“I'm trying my best to take it as it comes and the way my results have been this year, I just want to keep that attitude.
“This week, to not to hit it as well as I have been but putt so well is actually nice. It’s amazing the difference you see in your scores but hopefully I can get my long game back to what it’s been recently and keep the putter working.
“I just want to keep playing it one shot at a time, one hole at a time, as clichéd as it is. I'm not going to put too much expectation on myself and just try to do the best I can.”
The former University of Tennessee student admits he has been put through the wringer in recent years, having also missed 15 cuts in 20 events on the Challenge Tour last year, but he never lost faith that he could return to title-challenging form and is looking forward to playing in the final group for the first time since 2011.
“It’s been three years since I’ve been in the final group or even close, so it’s been a while,” he said. “It was a tough road but I’ll look forward to it tomorrow and just see what I can get out of it.
“It’s been a down-in-the-doldrums time for a while now and it’s been tough for me, my family, my girlfriend and everyone who’s been supporting me, but this year I went back to my old college coach and I felt like the long game especially has been coming around.
“I had been focussing on that and then my short game hasn’t been as sharp as guys out here so now finally, I feel like I can put the two of them together. It’s been nice to see it finally happen for me so far this week.”
Relecom, meanwhile, signed for a three under par 68 to move to 12 under but it was a colourful scorecard, especially in a front nine during which he carded and eagle, four birdies, two bogeys, a double-bogey and a solitary par.
He was delighted to be still in with a chance though, and is looking forward to locking horns with Ford again, having played the opening two rounds with the current tournament leader.
“I played with Charlie in the first two days and I'm looking forward to playing with him tomorrow,” said the 29 year old. “We were head to head all the time on Thursday and Friday and he had a great round today, so it will be a good day tomorrow.
“The last time I was in the last group was also in 2011, in Lyon, when Julien Quesne won and I came second. I'm just taking it as slowly as I can and trying to enjoy being on the golf course, not putting too much pressure on myself.
“Today I was generally relaxed but a bit more nervous so I played conservative a couple of times, which doesn’t help me so I have to keep attacking and be aggressive.
“Of course there is more pressure when you play in the last group but I'm just going to enjoy it. The people I've been staying with this week will come out so I will just have a laugh with them and we’ll see what happens.”
George Murray, who shared the overnight lead after round two, had moved into the outright lead at one point on moving day but suffered a bogey, double-bogey, bogey finish and had to settle for a one under par final round of 70.
That left the Scot in a share of third place alongside Italy’s Niccolo Quintarelli, who in contrast finished with two birdies to sign for a two under 69 as he chases a maiden Challenge Tour title.
Due to the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, the final group will tee off at 10:00am local time tomorrow in a U-draw from both the first and ninth tees.
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