Angel Cabrera of Argentina, who came within a whisker of making the play-off in last year’s Open Championship, put himself in a strong position to land the Smurfit European Open at The K Club.
The 30 year old from Cordoba fired a third round 70, two under par, in testing conditions to finish with a seven under par total of 209 and a one stroke advantage from defending champion Lee Westwood and Sweden’s Ryder Cup player, Jarmo Sandelin.
Westwood shot a 71 for 210 while Sandelin returned a 69 for the same mark. They, in turn, are one clear of a posse of chasing players in Darren Clarke (72), a back-to-form Per-Ulrik Johansson, local favourite Paul McGinley (70
) and Ignacio Garrido of Spain (71).
Cabrera, a strong wind player, excelled in the swirling conditions which, as Westwood pointed out: “sorted the men from the boys”. At the end of the day it was proved correct, with considerably more men than boys jostling for position at the head of affairs.
Last year Cabrera was second in the Murphy’s Irish Open behind Sergio Garcia, had a putt to tie Paul Lawrie, Justin Leonard and Jean Van de Velde in the Open, then came sixth in the Smurfit European Open. Clearly he has a taste for the big time – and Ireland!
He said: “I feel I will be a stronger player for those experiences. I have more confidence now and I’m hitting the ball well. I played well and didn’t make many mistakes, which is the most important thing around here.
“I enjoy playing in Ireland and I think the lessons I learned from last year will help me. I have been on Tour for four or five years now and I think a win will have to come sometime.”
Westwood, who opened with two bogeys but fought back with three birdies in his 71, concurred. He said: “He knows how to win and big occasions don’t upset him. He’s done well here and in the Open in windy conditions. Looking at the betting he was very good value at 50-1 at the start of the week and no, I didn’t bet on him! He obviously likes the place- but then so do I.”
Sandelin, who has not enjoyed the best of starts to the year, aims to celebrate his recent engagement to Linda, his regular caddie, and the news that they are expecting their first child on December 24.
The tall Swede said: “There are a lot of changes in my life and I am looking forward to the birth of the baby. She is 16 weeks pregnant. She was supposed to stop caddieing at the US Open but felt too tired and my brother, Jerry, has taken the bag for the next three weeks. Then we’ll see.”
Clarke, like Westwood, was unable to make a fast start. Exactly the opposite in fact. He bogeyed the first two holes and the sixth, but made four birdies from then on to recover his position.
He commented: “That was a hard day which ended with a good recovery. Being three over after six was not where I wanted to be. I put my second in the water at the last but did well to get up and down from 150 yards. I would have been disappointed to walk off with a bogey. It’s tight at the top and I am still there only two off the lead.”