Warren Bennett spent last year’s TNT Open contemplating a life without golf. Twelve months on, the 1998 Challenge Tour winner from England can consider the prospect of capturing his second European Tour title at Noordwijkse in Holland.
Bennett fired a third round 67, four under par, for an 11 under par total of 202 to take a one stroke lead over Bernhard Langer – also 67 – with Barry Lane, Greg Turner and Darren Fichardt just a further shot adrift.
A long-term neck injury, and a less than encouraging prognosis, had reduced Bennett to believing his golfing days were over, just two years after heading the Challenge Tour Rankings and 12 months after winning the Scottish PGA Championship on The European Tour.
“I was going to give the game up” he said simply, after charging home in 31 blows highlighted by three in a row from the 13th. “I had no interest in golf. I only played in six tournaments and hadn’t earned anything. A long-term injury can play on your mind and the neck problem had been around for a few years.
“But thanks to the doctors back home, here I am today. I got a full medical exemption and a good category. The Tour were great to me and I hope I can repay them by playing some good golf.”
He has certainly done that, making his last nine cuts, while the man he partners in the final round has been a model of consistency all year, both in America and Europe. Langer, bidding for a tenth Ryder Cup appearance, can move into an automatic qualifying position by landing the 300,000 points available to the champion this week.
Langer, who had four birdies and no bogeys in a carefully constructed 67, admitted: “I need some good finishes to make sure I get into the Ryder Cup and the NEC Invitational and a bunch of other things, so it’s nice to be in a position to do that. Hopefully I can have another good day tomorrow.”
Lane, who has experienced some hard times over the past few seasons, continued his resurgence with a performance which seemed destined to place himself alongside Bennett at the top of the leaderboard.
Three birdies on the front nine carried him out in 33 and he smashed a driver and eight iron to 12 feet for an eagle at the 11th and popped in a 30 footer for a birdie two at the next. A five footer moved him to 11 under at the 15th, but Lane found trouble at the last.
He drove into a bunker and required a free drop after his second landed in thick rough. From there he found a bunker and the resulting double bogey six left him with a 66 and a nine under par total alongside Turner and Fichardt.
The latter helped his cause by holing a 148 yard wedge for an eagle two at the 14th but the Sao Paulo Brazil Open champion bogeyed the last for a 70 and 204 total, the same as Turner who birdied two of the last four for a 71.
Despite his finish, Lane was still bubbling with enthusiasm after another promising tournament. At 44th in the Ryder Cup points list, he has a lot of ground to make up on those near the top, but it doesn’t prevent him from dreaming.
“I probably need to win at least two events” he said. “But that has to be my goal and I hope I can knock one off and see what happens. Even though I double bogeyed the last I am still enjoying myself immensely. I love being in contention again. It’s attitude.
“If things go well they go well. If you go out and play badly you play badly. There are a lot of people worse off than me. We are privileged to have this sort of life and maybe we should realise it sometimes.”