Julian Suri produced a masterclass in leading from the front as his nine under par round of 63 earned him a three-shot cushion at the top of the leaderboard going into the final day of the D+D REAL Czech Challenge.
The American was quick out of the blocks on Day Three at Golf & Spa Kunětická Hora, birdieing his first two holes to move clear of playing partner and overnight co-leader Tapio Pulkkanen, with two more birdies and an impressive eagle on the seventh sending him out in 30 and looking imperious.
Pulkkanen started to hit back, cutting the lead to two, before a run of three straight birdies from the 14th guaranteed Suri the 54-hole lead – though his Finnish companion’s birdie on the last hole kept him in touch.
Suri has already shone on the Road to Oman this season, notably at the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort where he finished runner-up, and he came into the week second in the Rankings – and will now have a great chance of regaining top spot with a maiden Challenge Tour victory in Drítec.
“It’s a good feeling,” said the 26 year old. “I played very well, got off to a great start, and there’s quite a few accessible holes to birdie on the front nine so I took advantage of those.
“Tapio played very well as well and we were bouncing back and forth and feeding off each other, but for me it’s the same things as it has been the last few weeks – I’m just trying to go out there and execute my shots as well as I can and I know that the birdies will come.
“I did a really good job of that today and I did a really good job of putting to one side whatever I’d done on the previous hole and just keeping my foot on the gas pedal.
“I feel good with my game, I’ve just got to keep plugging away with the things I’m working on – good things have already come and I’m sure good things will continue to come if I keep doing that.
“The way I’m hitting it, I knew birdies were going to come today, but to keep it bogey free today was really nice too. I’m just doing my thing and that usually turns out pretty well.
“There are a lot of birdies around so, even with three shots, I’ll have to keep attacking tomorrow. It’s not even that birdies are easy, I still have to stay in the moment, but I’m not going to change anything in the way I’m playing.
“You could look at it a little bit like a match play between myself and Tapio, and maybe on the last couple of holes it might come down to that, but going into tomorrow I’m not going to keep track of that – if I play like I have the last couple of days, and especially today, I should be fine.”
It is testament to the fighting qualities of Pulkkanen that Suri is not even further ahead, but the Finn’s 66 was the second-best round of the day behind only his playing partner, a sign of the quality of golf being played by the final pair.
Pulkkanen too has a runner-up to his name this season, at the Turkish Airlines Challenge, so he has the form in 2017, as well as fresh experience of being in the final group on the last day, to keep Suri on his toes tomorrow.
It is hard not to view the tournament as a two-horse race, with Oliver Farr the next-nearest contender on 13 under, eight shots back in third place after a 67 today.
One shot behind the Welshman are Scott Fernandez, Thomas Linard – winner here in 2014 – and Peter Whiteford, with Michael Hoey in seventh place on 11 under par, but a ten-shot deficit is surely too much for even a five-time European Tour winner to make up.