Bradley Dredge is poised to take sweet revenge at The Irish Open after a quite unbelievable third round at the Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort climaxed with the Welshman taking a one stroke lead over England’s Richard Finch.
Dredge was the forgotten man of last year’s Irish Open after he lost in a sudden-death play-off to home hero Padraig Harrington, who ended the 25 year drought for a home winner in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
Harrington’s victory sparked wild celebrations last year and, understandably, dominated the pre-tournament talk in the build up to this week’s event.
In all of the hype and excitement, no-one considered Dredge as a contender to succeed Harrington, but the 34 year old from Cardiff has put himself in a wonderful position to go one better in Sunday’s final round.
Dredge’s six under par 66 elevated him to the top of the leaderboard on nine under par 207, one clear of Finch on what was an amazing day’s golf at Adare Manor.
“I would love to go out tomorrow – and obviously not get in a playoff – and see things going my way. I certainly don't want to go into a play-off with an Irishman, let’s put it that way!” smiled Dredge.
“I was very disappointed after losing last year in the play-off, but after a couple of days, you're on to the next one and you're focusing on that. Coming here this year, I have good memories of playing the course well last year, even though the conditions were tougher. But the lay ups are still the same, so, yeah, good memories all in all.”
Dredge and Finch, who posted a seven under par 65, were joined by Lee Westwood, David Frost, Grégory Havret and the Irish contingent of Clarke, Harrington and McIlroy as the main protagonists in a day packed with excitement.
Havret set the tone for the afternoon with his brilliant 65. The Frenchman was the first man to tee off on Saturday morning and his seven birdie haul – that could have been better given he parred three of Adare’s four par fives – saw him move from a tie for last place at the start of the day into joint ninth place going into the final round.
Next up was Westwood, who began the day on one over par, but produced a monstrous finish, picking up six shots in the last five hole, to set a new course record of eight under par 64 and haul himself into third position on seven under for the tournament, two behind Dredge.
Cue Frost to come home with a 66 and a share of fourth place on six under, alongside Felipe Aguilar and Robert Karlsson, whose respective rounds of 67 and 69 also contributed to the festival of golf that was unfolding in front of the Irish fans.
With a host of international players delighting the home crowd, all that was required was one of their own to charge through the field and provide a perfect day.
That may not have completely materialised, but with McIlroy just five off the lead on four under, and Clarke and Harrington on three under, there could yet be an Irish twist to the tale.
Clarke was looking at threatening the lead until a poor tee shot at the 18th saw the Ulsterman come undone as he then found a fairway bunker and thinned his third shot out of bounds, eventually succumbing to a triple bogey eight.
As the fourth round dawns, it is Clarke’s third round playing partner who is the man to catch. After what happened here 12 months ago, no-one would begrudge Dredge an Irish Open success, but if the final day is anything like the third, it will be a thrilling and fitting end to what has been a wonderful week in Ireland.