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Pulkkanen powers ahead in Prague

Pulkkanen powers ahead in Prague

Tapio Pulkkanen will take a two shot lead into the final round of the D+D Real Czech Masters as he bids to secure his maiden European Tour title.

Tapio Pulkkanen

The 31-year-old produced a stunning 66 at Albatross Golf Resort on Saturday, carding seven birdies and a single bogey to reach 13 under par and establish the first 54 hole lead of his European Tour career.

But he will have a stellar chasing pack trying to hunt him down on Sunday, with Major Champion Henrik Stenson and Americans Johannes Veerman and Sean Crocker in a three way tie for second on 11 under.

Another American Paul Peterson, who won this event in 2016, sits another shot back in fifth.

Pulkkanen began the day three shots off the lead but set about closing that gap with a birdie from close range at the par five first.

The Finn then picked up further shots at the fifth and ninth to reach the turn in 33 and move to ten under.

Pulkkanen pulled clear at the summit with a stunning birdie putt from 21 feet on the 11th before breathing a sigh of relief at the 12th as his third shot cleared the water with little room to spare.

He would have to settle for a par there but his red hot putter delivered for him once again on the 13th, where he holed from 17 feet to move to 12 under.

Crocker joined Pulkkanen at the summit courtesy of a hat-trick of birdies from the tenth but there was a two shot swing in the Finn's favour as he holed from 15 feet at the par three 16th to get to 13 under and Crocker bogeyed the 13th shortly afterwards.

That restored Pulkkanen's two shot advantage but a first bogey of the day on the 17th halved his lead.

He bounced straight back with a close range birdie at the last, though, to head into the final round on 13 under.

Pulkkanen said: "It was a solid round - better than the first two. A lot of good putts and a lot of good iron shots. Off the tee I was pretty straight today as well, so I’m happy with that.

"I did everything the same, a little bit of a different wind direction today, that helped on the par fives a little bit, but everything else was the same.

"Winning of course is always difficult. I feel like I could do it tomorrow.

"I was on top here three years ago, but the wind changed in the middle of the tournament and I didn’t have a good strategy for the other wind direction.

"I feel like I can play both aggressive and defensive here this week. I feel like I can win here."

Stenson, who is looking to play his way into Captain Padraig Harrington's thinking ahead of next month's Ryder Cup, opened his third round with a birdie at the first before dropping his first shot of the tournament on the sixth.

He recovered with back to back gains at the ninth and tenth before pulling off one of the shots of the day at the 14th, sending his approach right at the flag before tapping in for a close range birdie.

The 45-year-old then parred his way home for a second successive 69.

He said: "I’m pleased with the way I managed my way around the golf course.

"I’m still battling some things in the swing – I don’t know how visible it is on the outside but I’m certainly feeling it.

"It’s hard to turn around two or three bad seasons in one week. But I’m positive with the progress and feel like I’ve got a good grip on what we need to do.

"It’s about doing it more and better and at the same time I’m trying to play golf and do well in this tournament.

"I think I’m managing my way around the golf course, I’m putting well and good around the greens - avoiding mistakes. The only bogey was the unplayable ball on the sixth hole under the lip – I still consider myself three rounds bogey free."

Veerman, meanwhile, got his round off to a flying start with a brilliant eagle at the first, where he was rewarded for a risky second shot which narrowly cleared the water.

A bogey at the seventh followed but he bounced back with birdies on the eighth, 12th and 15th to sign for a 68.

Crocker mixed two birdies with two bogeys on the front nine before reeling off three straight gains from the tenth to briefly enjoy a share of the lead.

But he bogeyed the very next hole to fall from the summit, and finished with five straight pars on his way to a 70.

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