Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen moved into pole position to claim his first European Tour title for six years, despite a poor finish to his third round in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Kjeldsen enjoyed a four-shot lead after playing his first 13 holes in six under par at Royal County Down, but bogeyed the 17th and 18th to finish two ahead of Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Germany’s Max Kieffer.
Kieffer carded seven birdies and one bogey to set a new course record of 65, despite cold and blustery winds which meant only 11 players were under par at the end of the day.
“If you had given me 67 stood on the first tee I would have been very happy,” said Kjeldsen, whose last win came in the Open de Andalucia in 2009. “I played terrific all day and didn’t think I did too much wrong on the last two holes, so I will focus on the first 16.
“Competition is pretty hard out here. It’s not easy to win and it’s not like I have played poorly for six years, but it’s nice to have a chance and it would mean everything to win this event.
“It’s a fantastic tournament this year, maybe better than ever, and on a wonderful golf course. But it’s too early to think about that. There are a lot of great players behind me and I need to play well (on Sunday) to have a chance. It’s still that open.”
Kieffer made the most of some local knowledge to move into contention for his first European Tour title, his friend Stephen Sweeney having been an assistant professional at Royal County Down for four years.
“He showed us around in the practice round and this is definitely a course where local knowledge helps a lot,” said the 24-year-old, who lost a record nine-hole play-off in the Spanish Open in his rookie season in 2013. “I played very well today and holed a lot of putts, but I also had some luck when I hit a bad shot, which you are going to do in these conditions.
“I am looking forward to (Sunday). The crowds are great and it’s fun to play in front of such big crowds. There are a lot of benefits which would come with a victory and it would mean a lot.
“My game is ready and I feel I am mentally ready, but we will have to wait and see.”
England’s Tyrrell Hatton, Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger were all three shots off the lead after matching rounds of 70, with former world number one Luke Donald six off the pace after a costly double-bogey on the 15th in his 72.
Donald at least fared better than Players Championship winner Rickie Fowler, who looked to have got back into contention by chipping in for an eagle two on the 16th, only to take 16 more shots to play the last two holes.
Fowler, who needed just 11 shots to play the final four holes of regulation at Sawgrass in five under, lost a ball off the tee on the 17th and ran up a quadruple-bogey eight, before driving out of bounds on the par-five 18th to card another eight and a round of 76.
That left the world number nine on five over par alongside home favourite and 2007 champion Padraig Harrington, who came home in 40 for a 78.