Jean-Francois Remesy will attempt to become the first home winner of the Open de France for 35 years when he takes a three shot lead into the final round at Le Golf National.
A course record-equaling 65, six under par, took the 40 year old to 12 under par and three clear of Australian left-hander Richard Green, who posted a 66, with Welshman Ian Woosnam a further four strokes back and seven adrift of the lead in third place.
Jean Garaialde was the last Frenchman to win the Open de France, taking the title in 1969, but Remesy is on the brink of an historic victory.
“I am not thinking about that,” said Remesy when asked what it would mean to win the title. “Definitely not. I am in a very good position. I am in the perfect position to have an opportunity. But an opportunity doesn’t mean I am going to win. If I still continue to play as I have been playing, as I have been for the last three days, there is no reason why I shouldn’t for another round, like this I think I will be really well in contention to win the tournament. But at the moment I am not thinking about winning.”
After the shock defeat of France in Euro 2004 at the hands of the Greeks the previous evening, the French sporting public had something to cheer about as Remesy holed putt after putt in a brilliant round, pulling five clear at one point before Green started to reel him in.
“There is a lot of pressure on me, coming more from outside than myself,” added Remesy. “It’s the media, the crowds, the French people who want me to win the tournament. It’s great. It’s like Yannick Noah in the Roland Garros a few years ago. It could be a great thing for France. If I can give that opportunity to the French country for the Open it would be great, a great feeling.”
With Woosnam falling off the pace with four dropped shots in the last six holes, Green looks like being the only player capable of preventing Remesy from winning the oldest of the Contintental Opens and the €500,000 first prize.
It has been seven years since Green, in his first full season on The European Tour, defeated Woosnam and Greg Norman in a play-off for the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic, but the left-hander now feels ready to win again.
“I would love to get that monkey off my back of only having one win,” said Green. “I am starting to believe I am a good enough player to win more than once. I understand the fans will be rooting for Jeff to the maximum. I know what it is like to play in the Australian Open and there is an immense amount of pressure on him to win your own national Open. I am hitting the ball so good this week.”
For Woosnam, it was another disappointing back nine. For ten holes he played more great golf, picking up four birdies with just one dropped shot to stay right at the top of the leaderboard. But like the previous day, he started spilling shots on the back nine and eventually finished with a one over par 72 to lie on five under par 208.
“I played well for 12 holes, didn’t do much wrong but lost it again on the back nine again,” said Woosnam. “Trouble with this course, you start hitting a couple of bad shots and it gets hold of you.”
Remesy, 40 earlier this month, got off to the perfect start with four birdies in his first six holes to take the outright lead. Three of those birdies were matched by playing partner Woosnam and the pair were back level when Remesy bogeyed the seventh after driving near the out of bounds fence.
Woosnam fell one behind when he bogeyed the short eighth, missing the green with his tee shot and failing to make his six foot par putt, while Green closed the gap to two with an outward half of 33.
Four successive birdies after the turn took Remesy to 13 under par and five strokes clear of Woosnam and six clear of Green. Bouyed by the home crowd, Remesy holed considerable birdie putts on the tenth, 11th and 12th holes before hitting his approach to within three feet on the 13th to set up a fourth successive birdie.
Woosnam dropped a shot on the same hole after a flier for his approach shot finished over the back of the green from where he was unable to get up and down, giving Remesy a five stroke cushion.
But the gap was back to three when Green birdied the 13th and 14th to move to nine under par and Remesy, after finding the thick rough off the 14th tee, played his third shot into the bunker and failed to get up and down for a par. Both players parred in from there to keep the gap three shots going into the final round.
Having saved a miracle par on the 14th after pulling his second shot into the thick rough, Woosnam lost more ground with a double bogey on the 15th, hitting his approach into the water that guards the green to fall back to level par for the day and six shots off the lead. A three putt on the last compounded his disappointment.
England's Paul Casey, looking to consolidate his place within Europe's Ryder Cup team, was eight under par through 16 holes before bogeying the last two holes to finish at one under par. His 65 was nevertheless a new course record for Le Golf National.
“Since the 15th on Thursday it has been good,” said Casey, referring to his start where he was eight over par through those first 15 holes of the week. “I am not going to complain about dropping two on 17th and 18th. I am now one under. What was I after 15th on Thursday – eight over.
“I would just like to keep it on the fairways tomorrow. If I can do the same we will see what happens. I don’t know what the leaders are going to do today. It is not that tough at all if you play sensible golf. I don’t know what they will finish at but I would like to shoot something in the 60s tomorrow.”