In very high winds but clear skies at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club, Thornton holed out with a perfect seven iron tee shot at the 206-yard par three 11th which was greeted with cheers from the spectators and high fives from his playing partners.That came just two holes after an eagle at the ninth hole as he made an almighty push up the leaderboard, climbing 34 places to the top alongside South African Tjaart Van der Walt and local favourite Baptiste Chapellan on four under par.
Indeed, the former Assistant Pro at Royal County Down Golf Club came agonisingly close to equalling the course record of 64, but his eight foot birdie putt at the last slid just by the left of the hole. Nevertheless, the 36 year old was delighted with how he played.“That was obviously pretty good stuff,” said Thornton, who was six shots off the lead before Round Three. “I just played really well, hit some good shots and in weather like that you just have to keep straight and that’s what I do well.
“I was making greens and giving myself chances and I managed to take them today. The weather suits me, I like playing in a breeze. There were times when you could have hit any one of five clubs because the wind was unpredictable, but you just have to pick one and trust it.“I holed about a 30-footer for eagle at the ninth and then the hole in one - I was in between a seven iron and an eight iron and I hit a nice smooth seven and it was all over the flag, one big bounce and it just rolled in. It was really good shot.
“There were a few high fives and shouts, it was my first one in a professional tournament so I was delighted.“I was happier about the way I played 12 actually, because it’s breezy and the blood can rush to your head a little after the hole in one, but I hit a lovely drive there and hit to a few feet and holed it for birdie so that carried on the momentum.”
Having failed to retain his European Tour card in the 2012 season, Thornton has been left with a Challenge Tour category that does not allow as many playing opportunities as he would like, and he is under no illusions as to how big a week this could be in the context of his season.But the Bradford-born man is not getting ahead of himself and, while knows there is still plenty to do, he is relishing the opportunity of a first professional victory.
“I was seven over after my first 27 holes so just to make the cut and then play well today was a bonus and it’s anybody’s tournament now,” he said.“I am looking forward to the final day now, I'm just going to try and go for every shot like I did today and see what happens. It’s been a while since I've been in this position but this has given me a big boost.
“It could be a big week for me but I’ll tell you if it is or not tomorrow after I've finished!”Van der Walt looked to be heading into a three shot lead entering championship Sunday in northern France but a double-bogey at the 16th followed immediately by a bogey at the 17th meant he had to settle for a level par 71 to remain on four under par for the tournament.
“I actually played better than I did yesterday and I don’t feel too disappointed after that,” said the 39 year old, who has now held a share of the lead after every round. “I gave myself a lot of chances and I'm really hitting some good golf shots.
“My mistakes were so close to being good shots but in that wind anything can happen. Overall I'm feeling comfortable and maybe tomorrow I can move clear of the field and then not drop back. I'm playing well so I just need to keep doing what I'm doing.”Chapellan, who is playing in just his sixth European Tour event, was boosted by a significant following on home soil as he signed for a two under 69.
“I play well in the wind, I think it’s fun,” said the 25 year old. “It was similar conditions to when I won my first professional tournament on the Alps Tour. My putting wasn’t great today but I only made one bogey so that is positive.
“I will do my best to keep my energy up in this weather and I have had a good strategy around this course so far this week so hopefully I can keep that going.”Englishman Seve Benson was a shot back in fourth place after carding a one under par 70 to move to three under for the tournament.