Benjamin Hebert will go into the final round of the Azerbaijan Golf Challenge Open with a three-shot lead over Alexander Björk after a topsy-turvy third day in Quba.
The lead changed hands several times throughout the course of a fascinating battle, but a late flourish from Hebert, combined with a brace of bogeys from Björk, enabled the Frenchman to steal the advantage on 15 under par.
Hebert’s 67 was again the lowest of the day – he flew round in a mere 62 shots on Friday – and the 27 year old is now 15 under par for his last two rounds at The National Azerbaijan Golf Club.
Björk had appeared on course to match Hebert’s effort, but bogeys on the 16th and 18th, where he three-putted from the fringe of the green, meant he had to settle for a round of 69 and a 12 under par aggregate total.
With confidence riding high after his stunning effort the previous day, Hebert again flew out of the blocks with an opening birdie and an eagle at the par five second hole. He promptly gave a shot back on the third hole, but rallied with gains at the sixth and eighth to reach the turn in 32.
His back nine was more of a mixed bag, as he countered two successive birdies from the 12th hole with a trio of bogeys on the 11th, 14th and 15th; but the Brive native gave himself some breathing space with two quick-fire gains from the 16th to set up a golden opportunity for a first Challenge Tour title for three years.
Hebert said: “I got off to a great start, and that helped me to relax and stay calm. But it was quite breezy today and even though the course is in good condition it’s still playing firm, so it definitely wasn’t easy to get close to the pins. I holed some very important putts for par and birdie, and in the end that was the main reason why I was able to finish the day in the lead.
“My hope at the start of the week was to finish in the top five to get into the Rolex Trophy, but now that I have a three-shot lead going into the final round, obviously I want to do a bit better than just finish in the top five.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this position, but I won three times in 2011 so I know I can do it. I will just have to stay patient and stay focused, and if I can putt well again then hopefully that will be enough.”
In contrast to Hebert, Björk got off to a relatively sluggish start, but his round caught fire with a chip-in eagle on the ninth hole.
That sparked a run of three birdies in his next four holes and at that point the Swede was the man to catch, but his late slip-ups handed the initiative to Hebert.
Michael Lorenzo-Vera will join Björk and fellow Frenchman Hebert in the final group after he finished on 11 under par.
Lorenzo-Vera won the Challenge Tour Grand Final – and with it the Rankings – in 2007, but since then the 29 year old from Biarritz has struggled to realise his vast potential.
However, Lorenzo-Vera has a chance of securing his first victory for seven years after notching five birdies in a round of 69.
In-form German Moritz Lampert, who eagled the par four 17th hole, retains hopes of claiming a third win of the campaign after moving into a share of fourth place on ten under par.