Philip Golding broke free from the pack with a birdie on the final hole at Le Golf National to take a one stroke lead into the final round of the Open de France.
Twelve months ago a 40 year old Englishman, Malcolm Mackenzie, won the title after 20 years of trying and there is a real sense of déjà vu this week with Golding at the head of proceedings.
Like Mackenzie, Golding has reached the age of 40 and since turning professional 20 years ago has battled to keep his place on The European Tour. He holds the unenviable record for the most visits to The European Tour Qualifying School, 16 in total, but is in a position to fulfil his dreams tomorrow.
A determined 68, four under par, which included six birdies and two dropped shots, took him to 12 under par and one stroke clear of two of Europe’s victorious 2002 Ryder Cup team in Thomas Björn and Pierre Fulke, Englishmen David Howell and Barry Lane and Australian Peter O’Malley. Stephen Gallacher of Scotland and the home favourite Raphael Jacquelin are a further shot back on ten under par in a congested leaderboard.
“Malcolm won last year and it would be fantastic to finish that way,” said Golding. “Winning is a dream. I would like to win and shall do my best tomorrow and see what happens. I shall look forward to it. I will break it down to playing one hole at a time and one shot at a time. That is all you can do and not get ahead of yourself. And enjoy the experience of playing in the last group.”
O’Malley set the clubhouse target when he raced to the turn in 30 strokes on his way to a six under par 66 to move to 11 under par. At the time it didn’t look like it would be enough to lead with Björn starting on ten under but the Dane struggled early on, dropping three shots in the first seven holes before recovering with four birdies in his last 11 holes to move back to 11 under par.
Lane, who with his French wife owns an apartment in Paris, enjoyed plenty of support from friends and family on his way to a five under par 67 to join the group on 11 under par.
After two years trying to remodel his swing, Fulke reverted back to his natural game this week and has found everything has clicked back into place.
“I thought I was going to be a better player by changing it a little bit and that hasn’t worked,” said Fulke. “The feelings I used to have on the course haven’t been there. So this week I went back to what I used to do. Opened up my stance a bit more to get through the ball a bit easier and it seems to work. I am hitting the ball really nicely. All my feelings and the focus I used to have are back. And my putting has come back as well this week.”
Howell has also been working hard on his game having changed back to his old coach at the end of last year and the hard work is now starting to pay off. Two bad shots during the round cost him two bogeys but he made up for those with five birdies. It could have been six and a share of the lead but his six foot birdie putt on the last spun out of the hole.
“You can play week in week out without getting any emotions on Tour. It is nice when you get bit of a buzz and adrenaline flowing, a few nerves is what it is all about. I didn’t really feel like I had much of the rub of the green out there so overall pleased and hopefully things will go my way tomorrow.”