A sparkling third round of 65 saw Alvaro Velasco take a stranglehold on the Kazakhstan Open, the richest regular event on the Challenge Tour Schedule.
Velasco, with one Challenge Tour title to his name already this season, currently sits in sixth place in the Rankings, but after notching eight birdies and a solitary bogey the Spaniard has both the Number One spot and a swift return to the Challenge Tour firmly in his sights.
The 29 year old, who was born and lives in Barcelona, currently leads on 18 under par, one shot clear of Italian Federico Colombo – who was inspired by a good luck test message from last year’s champion Edoardo Molinari – with England’s Charlie Ford a further stroke back on 16 under par.
Should Velasco follow Molinari into the winner’s enclosure at Zhailjau Golf Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan, he would in all probability surge to the top of the Rankings and seal a place in The 2011 Race to Dubai, having lost his playing privileges on The European Tour last season.
He said: “I probably didn’t play as well as I did yesterday, especially off the tee. But I competed really well, so I’m very happy. I’m sure I’ll sleep well on a one shot lead and then get ready for the final day. There are plenty of birdie chances on this course if you’re playing well, especially on the par fives, so I just hope I can make the most of them. When you’re on top after the third round you want to finish the job off, but if I don’t win I have to make sure I at least finish first or second.
“I’ve already won once this season, and that should definitely help me on the final day because I learned a lot about myself. I came from one or two shots behind on the final day when I won in Spain so this is a little bit different, but I’d rather be in the lead than in any other position. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Colombo held the lead jointly going into the third round, but soon relinquished it with his first bogey of the tournament at the par three second hole, where he three-putted.
But he got back on level terms with a birdie at the sixth, before adding a further four on the more demanding back nine to bolster his hopes of clinching a first Challenge Tour title.
Colombo said: “I started the day with a lot of confidence because I’ve been playing very well, and even though I bogeyed the second I stayed patient and calm because I knew that the birdies would come. The front nine is the easier of the two but I know that if I’m playing well I can make birdies anywhere, and sure enough I picked up some shots on the back nine, which made for a nice change!
“Tomorrow should be a great day, and I’m looking forward to it. Alvaro’s playing great golf – to shoot seven under on the third day is unbelievable. So it should be a great battle. Hopefully I can play as well as Edoardo did on the final day last year! I got a good luck text from him last night telling me to make sure the trophy stays in Italy, so I’ll do my best.”
Ford followed up his 64 on the second day with a no-less-impressive round of 66, the highlight of which was three successive birdies from the 14th hole.
He undid some of his hard work with a “sloppy” bogey at the par three 17th, but promptly made amends with a closing birdie to set up a tense final day.
He said: “I started with another bogey again today, which was a little annoying. I probably didn’t hit it quite as well as yesterday, but still managed to score well. It was nice to finish with a birdie on the last, especially after my sloppy bogey on the 17th. It was a catalogue of errors really, but to get it back on the last means dinner will taste a lot better tonight.
“It’s obviously a big day tomorrow, but I managed to see it through when I won in Turkey earlier in the season when it was all still brand new, so I haven’t felt nearly as nervous this week as I did back then. I’m sure there will be a few nerves on the first tee in the morning, but that’s a good sign. There’s quite a few guys up near the top of the leaderboard, so I’ll have to keep attacking – there’s no use resting on your laurels. If you can get it going out there and make some putts, you can shoot some really low scores out there.”
Joint overnight leader Daniel Gaunt of Australia is in fourth place on 14 under par after a round of 71.
Gaunt had moved clear at the top of the leaderboard after picking up three shots on the back nine, but a bogey at the 11th hole and a double at the 13th – where he pulled his shot into the water after being distracted on the tee – saw him slip back into the pack.