Pontus Widegren is hoping to fulfil a lifelong dream by sealing a maiden European Tour victory at the Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI, after a five under par third round 67 handed the young Swede a one shot advantage heading into the final day.
The 24 year old shared the halfway lead with experienced Englishman Sam Walker at the picturesque Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra, and it was the younger of the two who made hay while the sun shone on moving day.
Widegren admitted nerves were a factor as he bogeyed the opening hole but he bounced back in perfect fashion with a three at the par five third, the first of his two eagles in a three under par front nine.
It’s been my dream since I was a kid to play on The European Tour
Two birdies on the way home including one at the last meant he climbed into the outright lead on a 16 under total at the Portuguese island venue, ahead of Scotland’s Scott Henry and Roope Kakko of Finland, and the Stockholm player was delighted with his day’s work.
“It was very good today,” said the University of California, Los Angeles alumnus. “It was a bit tough at the start but I managed to get a nice eagle at number three and then I had some good momentum from there.
“I struggled on the greens today a little bit so it was all about my game from tee to green. I played really well on the back nine but I couldn’t make any putts with the chances I got. Five under is still a good score though and I’m right where I want to be so I’m really happy.
“I saw there were a lot of good scores going up on the leaderboard and that’s what got me going on the back nine I think. I pushed myself then and gave myself a lot of chances. Not all of them went in but hopefully more putts will drop tomorrow.”
Without even a European Challenge Tour title to his name, a victory for Widegren would certainly turn his burgeoning career on its head and he is relishing the challenge.
“I’ve had a few Sundays where I’ve been close to the lead starting off and you get very fired up and excited to go,” he said. “The nerves are going to be a factor tomorrow, as they were today, so I’ll try and handle it in the same way that I did today - which was to let my shoulders down, breathe and trust that my game is good enough shape to have another good day out here.
“It’s been my dream since I was a kid to play on The European Tour and to compete, like where I am now, so I’m very happy to be here and hopefully I can have a good day.”
Henry, meanwhile, continued his impressive form at an event in which he finished runner-up last year, losing out only in a play-off, as a bogey-free seven under par 65 moved the Glaswegian into a share of second place on 15 under.
Having finished day two with four dropped shots in the final five holes, he birdied four of the opening five on moving day to immediately cancel out those blemishes and he is now confident he can get the job done this time.
“Every day this week I’ve started well,” said the 28 year old. “I’ve been hitting my targets and hitting my numbers so I’m giving myself a lot of chances, playing smart, and I feel like I have a birdie opportunity every other hole.
“I’ve played well the whole time apart from a bad finish yesterday, so I was quite keen to start strong and that’s what I did.
“I’ve been working hard to keep the intensity up on every shot so I managed to get all those shots back that I dropped yesterday, so that gave me a fresh start to go and make some more birdies.
“I played in the last group going into the final day last year, the difference being that it was only the second round, and I shot a four under round to reach nine under. If I can do something similar I think I’ll have a chance, so my caddie and I will sit down and set a target tomorrow and just try and chase that.”
Kakko boasted the best round of the day as he signed for an eight under 64, which comprised an eagle, seven birdies – including three in the last three holes – and a bogey, and he is determined to add a maiden European Tour title to his two Challenge Tour victories.
“It was a great round,” said the 33 year old. “ I was playing with Brandon Stone and he is such a good player – he’s going to have a bright future ahead, he has that kind of Major-winning potential – so he makes an old man like me play at my best.
“I remained calm all day. I was hoping to make birdies at ten and 11 and didn’t, but then I made birdie at 12, so I was patient. I made a stupid bogey at 15 but it didn’t bother me at all. I was just in that place today where nothing got to me.
“It’s all about winning here now, not just a good result. I’m that type of guy where I’m just here to win this thing and that’s all I’m going for tomorrow. I hope I know how to do it. I’m in a perfect spot, exactly where I want to be, and I’m really looking forward to the battle.”
Kakko’s playing partner Stone carded a six under 66 to move to 14 under and hold fourth place outright, while Björn Åkesson (68) of Sweden was two shots further back on 12 under and former European Tour winner Rhys Davies (67) was in sixth place on 11 under.