Nick O’Hern confirmed his local hero status at the Vines Resort as the Perth-born left-hander won the “battle of the broomhandles” with Denmark’s Steen Tinning to take a two stroke lead over defending champion Michael Campbell into the final round of the Heineken Classic.
The 29 year old, encouraged by the home support, converted a four shot deficit after five holes of the third round into a three stroke advantage over Tinning, his playing partner in the final group.
O’Hern fired a round of 69, three under par, for a 12 under par total of 204. Campbell, a runaway winner 12 months ago, muscled his way into the thick of the action with an impressive 67 as Tinning wobbled towards the end and had to settle for a 72 and a share of third place on 207 alongside Dean Robertson and Peter Lonard.
Both O’Hern and Tinning favour the long putters pioneered by Peter Senior and Sam Torrance in the eighties, but in the early skirmishes it was the 38 year old Dane who controlled his ‘blade’ more effectively.
The Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open champion, who almost loft his life in a car crash nine years earlier, birdied the third and fifth while O’Hern bogeyed the fourth and fifth. At that juncture, Denmark led Australia by the margin of four shots.
However O’Hern, who lost to eventual winner Steve Stricker in the quarter-finals of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship in Melbourne last month, maintained his concentration and clawed his way back towards the top of the leaderboard.
He gathered twos at the eighth, 13th and 16th while also birdieing the long ninth and 18th holes to compile his slightly erratic 69. Meanwhile Tinning played tidily until the very end when he spilled two shots at the 17th and the 18th, where his mis-timed second shot landed in the water.
O’Hern charged his eagle putt at the last but holed the return. He said:“I was really trying to make that putt on the last for a three shot lead, but I got a rush of blood and hit it past. I’m playing with ‘Cambo’ tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that, I get on well with him and it should be a good day.”
Tinning's errors opened the door for Campbell and the defending champion needed no second invitation to place his spikes over the threshold. Last year Campbell won by six shots with a record 20 under par total of 268. On the way he carded a combination of scores between 65 and 69, but without a 67.
This time around he corrected that minor oversight, bogeying the sixth but then catching fire with six birdies from the ninth, blitzing the back nine in 31 blows to breath hard down O’Hern’s neck.
“The way I played today was great, I hit the ball great from tee to green,” Campbell said. “My putting was horrendous once again, the last three days it’s been terrible, the only way I’ve made birdies is two-putts on par fives and tap ins.”
Robertson, the first round leader after a 65, had slipped back with a second round 74 but he rallied with five birdies in a 68, his only mistake coming at the penultimate hole.
“The back nine was nice, the last ten holes in six-under. My goal was to get myself in contention for the weekend. The guys will probably reach 12-under so I’ll probably be two shots behind with one round to go.”
The biggest move of the third day was made by O’Hern’s compatriot from the other side of Australia as Sydney-born Lonard plucked seven birdies from the superb Vines course, including a hat-trick from the ninth. He dropped a stroke at the sixth but nevertheless moved into contention for his first European Tour title.
Greg Norman looked to be mounting a strong challenge midway through his round, birdieing three, nine and ten to move to eight-under, and with another birdie change from five feet after a fine approach into the 11th green.
But the Shark not only missed his birdie putt, but sent it past the hole by the same margin, and subsequently also missed his par putt, finally holing the bogey effort from virtually the same spot as he started. From there he couldn’t recover.
England’s David Howell, who made the cut right on the mark of one over par, shot an equal best of the day 66, having birdied the first hole and then had a purple patch of four more birdies in five holes to the turn to reach four-under.
A former Australian PGA winner, he bogeyed the tenth, but recovered the shot two holes later, and closed out his round on 211, five under par, with another birdie -his seventh - at the 15th.Third round scoresThird round video highlights