Per-Ulrik Johansson’s hopes of his first victory in a decade remained firmly on course as he took a four shot lead into the final round of The Russian Open Golf Championship.
The 40 year old Swede, whose last success came almost exactly ten years ago in August 1997 when he successfully defended the Smurfit European Open in Ireland, carded a fine third round 67 at Le Meridien Moscow Country Club for an 18 under par total of 198.
It moved the five time European Tour winner four shots clear of his nearest challenger, Robert-Jan Derksen of the Netherlands, who gave himself the chance of adding to his two Tour victories with an excellent 65 for a 14 under par total of 202.
Canadian-based Scot Alan McLean is two shots behind Derksen after his own 67 while England’s Adam Gee and Gary Murphy of Ireland share fourth place on 11 under par 205 – and with scoring low, it is realistic to assume that the winner of the €244,250 (£164,282) first prize will be one of these five players.
Johansson is understandably the bookmakers’ strong favourite and admitted he will try and use the experience which brought him five Tour victories, two successful Ryder Cup appearances and a Dunhill Cup win with Sweden to good effect.
“I have a bit of a routine from the past with my successes so hopefully that will pay off tomorrow,” he said. “I am very pleased with today but it is going to be a tough day tomorrow, there are still a lot of guys there right behind me so I have to keep playing my game. I know it is a cliché but it is the only way to go in this game.
“The only blemish I had today was on the 18th, our ninth hole, where I hit it in the water to make double bogey six – I couldn’t believe that I didn’t carry the right side. But except for that hole, I played pretty much the way I did yesterday. I came back really well with a birdie on the first and an eagle on the second so I made up for it there.”
Closest challenger Derksen made no mistakes in his third round, a flawless seven birdie effort which kept him in with a chance of keeping his run of tournament successes going.
“I won in 2003 and then in 2005 and I said to myself I definitely have to win in 2007 to keep the run going and all my friends were asking me which week it would be,” he said.
“I thought it might be Loch Lomond because I love that course but I also said to them, put some money on me for Russia. I said it to the guy I played with in the Pro-Am as well to put some money on me and now I have a chance to win tomorrow so who knows.
“I played really well today so I am happy as I had the intention this week to go for the top spot. This afternoon I gave myself a lot of chances and putted nicely and I just missed one on the last which was a little annoying as I thought I might need it to get a little closer to Per-Ulrik. But we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Finally, and not surprisingly, in a week blighted by torrential rain over the Moscow area, the weather has had an impact on Sunday’s final round too.
Fears of a potentially serious thunderstorm over the course late on Sunday afternoon forced Tournament Director José Maria Zamora to take the decision to move the tee times for the fourth round forward considerably.
Instead of playing in two balls with a finish of around 5pm local time, the 75 players remaining will now play in three balls from two tees, teeing off between 7.30am and 9.30am local time, meaning the tournament should finish, barring any further weather delays or a play-off, at around 2.15pm.
In total, 12 ¼ hours of play has been lost to the tournament over the first three days, three and a quarter hours on Thursday, seven hours on Friday and two hours on Saturday morning.
Zamora and his team are fervently praying that figure is not added to on Sunday.