Pablo Larrazabal’s brilliant third round of four under par 67 at Le Golf National saw the 25 year old Spaniard hold off Ryder Cup giants Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood and everyone else in the field at the Open de France ALSTOM.
He may be 481st on the Official World Golf Ranking and a qualifier for the event, but Larrazabal outshone Montgomerie, Westwood and the rest to move to 11 under par 202, three clear of the eight-time Order of Merit winner Montgomerie and Søren Hansen, with Westwood joined by David Lynn a further stroke back on seven under.
“I saw the names of Monty and Westwood on the leaderboard buti don’t feel the pressure – I love to shoot lower than these guys. That’s the point,” said Larrazabal.
“I'm not the star of the tournament. I came from the pre-qualifying. There are 156 players and I am maybe the 150th best, but that's not a problem for me. If I play like I did today tomorrow it's going to be fun because I hit the ball great."
Montgomerie is hoping that the presence of himself, Hansen and Westwood will give him the chance to land an unbelievable 32 European Tour victory as he looks to get back in the running for The Ryder Cup Team.
“I drove the ball particularly poorly today and I don't know what happened,” said Montgomerie. “I was leading the stats on fairways hit and greens in regulation and I have sorted of fallen off the map there but it was good to finish with two fours and it's just a shame to bogey 15 and 16.
“To drop two over the last four was disappointing but I've given myself a chance. The guy who is leading I don't believe has led a field of this quality before and myself and Westwood are just behind him and Søren Hansen is also there and we are all Tour winners so it’s game on tomorrow.”
Westwood will be another major threat to Larrazabal’s hopes of landing is maiden European Tour victory, but the Englishman is well aware of how well the young Spaniard is playing.
“He has done well,” said Westwood. “It’s never easy when you have the lead overnight and you think about it lying in bed. He’ll have another night like that tonight but well done to him for shooting a good score today.
“You shouldn’t be surprised at how he has hung on – he’s a good player. I haven’t seen him playing but every time I looked behind me today he was hitting it close.
“My approach tomorrow will be just the same as I have done for the first three rounds. I don’t think this is the kind of golf course that you can attack. It feels like a US Open golf course. Obviously you can come out and birdie three of the first four but I think the way to play this golf course is conservatively.”
Larrazabal, whose brother Alejandro was British amateur champion in 2002, birdied four of his first eight holes to take command of the event.
Westwood had piled on the pressure with three in his first four and then another on the short 11th but bogeys at the next two set back his bid to make instant amends for his US Open near-miss two weeks ago.
Montgomerie then moved into second spot on his own, turning in 33 and adding further birdies on the 10th and long 14th, but he strayed into the rough on the next two and bogeyed both.
After his own outward 32 Larrazabal's first bogey came when he also failed to get up and down from beside the green on the 175 yard 16th.
But his reply was stunning at the 484 yard par four 17th, planting his second shot just a foot from the flag for a tap-in birdie to restore his three shot advantage.