Padraig Harrington remained on course to end a 25 year wait for a home success in the Irish Open after moving three shots ahead field at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort.
The 2006 European Number One shot a one under par 71 for a four under par score of 212, three better of England’s Simon Wakefield and Welshman Bradley Dredge.
Harrington is aiming to be the first Irishman to win his national Open since John O'Leary's 1982 success.
The Dubliner was cheered almost every step of the way and was quick to acknowledge home support.
“It felt all the way around like I was playing the final round of a tournament,” he said. “Certainly coming up the 18th, and thinking I am going to have to go through it again tomorrow, another 18 holes of this, yet it did feel like it was a Sunday round. It was that sort of atmosphere and that sort of attention out there. It was very exciting playing.
“Obviously I have to use that to my advantage when I need and play it down when I have to. It does make a big difference having the support. So it's a question of managing it well when you need a boost to allow the support to cheer you up, and at other times, you've got to keep yourself nice and level, and that's the time you kind of play it down in your head.”
Harrington has made no secret of his desire to win the Irish Open, a title he rates just behind the four Majors and stretched his overnight lead from one stroke to three by shooting one of only four sub par rounds.
“My goal today was to go out there and basically win the tournament today by maybe shooting 66 and running away from the field. That was my thought process going out. I felt like I could get a good one in there, play like yesterday; and if I get a good one in there I could have run away and sewed this up on Saturday evening, but that's not happened.
“I was taking the ball out of the hole on 18 thinking I was a little disappointed, but whether I'm three shots ahead or four shots ahead it won't make much difference tomorrow. At the end of the day, it's not a big enough lead that I can be at all complacent. I have to get out there and play good golf, play my own game, and there's a lot of work to be done tomorrow. It's a hard day's grind ahead of me.”
Playing partner Wakefield began two strokes adrift but briefly took over on top when Harrington threw in bogeys on the sixth and seventh. The Englishman could not sustain his momentum, however and dropped three shots in five holes from the turn before a birdie on the 16th took him back to one over for the day and left him just three adrift.
“I got off to a really good start but bogeyed the 10th and 11th really, and then missed a short one on the 12th, which sort of knocked the wind out of my sails,” said Wakefield. “But I made a good birdie on the 16th and two good pars to finish, so overall, very pleased.
“The crowd are very knowledgeable so they were applauding me, obviously not as much as Padraig, but what do you expect. I've played with Ernie and we had crowds in China that were fantastic, so I knew it was going to be a big day. I thought I handled it quite well.
With the course still proving troublesome, Dredge's 69, with three birdies in the last four holes, was the best effort of the day, as he stood tall as the only man to break 70. Dredge will go out in the final pairing with Harrington looking for his third European Tour title.
“I hope it stays windy,” said Dredge. “I think that suits me better. I don't mind playing the wind. I'm sort of used to it a bit now. I don't feel as though I'm hitting the ball great but my short game is where I want it and I think what's that could help me win. If I shoot a low score tomorrow I have a chance.”
South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Australian Richard Green lie on level par while another Irishman Damien McGrane, one of the few to break par with a 70, is on one over alongside Argentina’s Andres Romero but all eyes will be on Harrington for the final day.