Bernhard Langer will take a commanding eight shot lead into the final round of The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex after a masterful display of front running at Royal Porthcawl.
The German began the third round with a seven stroke advantage over double Senior Major winner Colin Montgomerie and England’s Chris Williams, and he tightened his stranglehold with a three under par round of 68 for an impressive 14 under par total of 199.
Montgomerie had been hoping to exert some pressure on his former Ryder Cup teammate on moving day as he chases a third consecutive victory in the Senior Major Championships. But after a three under par front nine of 32, the Scot ran into trouble immediately after the turn, carding a double bogey on the tenth followed by a bogey in the 11th, before dropping another shot on the 17th when his tee shot ran into unraked spikemarks in a bunker.
That meant a back nine of 40 and a round of 72 for the 2010 Ryder Cup captain, who is now 11 shots adrift of Langer on three under par, while Williams also lost ground on the runaway leader with a level par 71 to stay on four under par.
Instead, it was Canada’s Rick Gibson, winner of the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open earlier this month, who moved into second place on six under par with a round of 66.
Yet that is still some distance behind Langer, whose eight shot cushion is a new 54 hole record in The Senior Open Championship and matches the benchmark recorded in any of the Senior Majors, set by Jack Nicklaus in the 1991 US Senior PGA Championship.
The two-time Masters Champion could not quite replicate the low scoring of his opening two rounds of 65 and 66, but he carded birdies on the second, fourth, sixth and 18th holes, with his only bogey of the day on the tenth.
Langer let a two shot lead slip on the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago, before losing a play-off to American Mark Wiebe, but after such a dominant display so far in Wales it would be difficult to imagine him not converting his sizeable advantage into a second Senior Claret Jug on Sunday night, to go alongside his victory at Carnoustie in 2010.
“I am one step closer,” said the 56 year old. “I still have 18 holes to go. It's nice to have an eight shot lead, but I have still got to keep my head down tomorrow and hit a lot of good golf shots and make some putts and play smart.”
He added: “I've still got a lot of golf to play. I need to play smart, play aggressive, but not stupid. I need to stay out of the pot bunkers, hit fairways, hit greens. That's really my goal tomorrow. Then I should be okay.”
Langer’s victory four years ago was the last by a European player in The Senior Open Championship, and he is enjoying being in strong position to lift the prestigious trophy once again.
“It's very exciting,” he said. “It is the only Major in European senior golf, and it's a beautiful trophy. It's a great title, and yeah, it would be very exciting to win a second one.”
The 2004 Ryder Cup captain will be joined in the final group by Gibson, who is experiencing a dream month following his maiden European Senior Tour title in Switzerland a fortnight ago.
Gibson said: “Obviously Bernhard is playing extremely well and the rest of us are kind of in a pack behind him. But links and links, and I understand we're going to get some wind tomorrow.
“We've only had light breezes so far, and Bernhard is the only one who's kind of figured it out. So with some wind tomorrow it's going to be very interesting.”
American Bob Tway eagled the 13th hole in a round of 68 to move into third position on five under par, while US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson recovered from a double bogey on the ninth hole to sign for a round of 69.
Watson shares fourth position with compatriot Scott Dunlap (65) and Williams on four under par, while Montgomerie is in a three-way share of seventh position alongside former Masters Champion Fred Couples (68) and Englishman Barry Lane (69).
Montgomerie believes he is now in a contest for second place and has set that as his target for the final round.
He said: “It is amazing, when I reached the ninth and I was three under I felt I was doing okay and so was he (Langer). You just feel like you're swimming into the current, uphill, into the wind, one arm, treading water.
“But all credit to him. He's the best player out here, and he's proving it.”