Australia’s Lucas Herbert fired a solid two-under-par 70 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead over American Johannes Veerman heading into the final round of the Irish Open at the Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown, Kilkenny.
Overnight leader Herbert, who had a two-shot lead over Andy Sullivan and Grant Forrest at the halfway stage, began the third round with three birdies on the front nine and one immediately after the turn before a couple of bogeys.
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That blip meant the 25-year-old went 15-under for the tournament, allowing Veerman to cut his lead down with a steady round of 67 and stay in the hunt for a maiden European Tour win.
Herbert said that it was a “solid day”. “Obviously conditions got pretty tricky out there and definitely tested everyone enough to get the scoring to go out a little bit,” he said. “I felt I could have put some distance between myself and the field and didn’t do that.
“I want to get to 20-under as a personal goal. So if I can do that, someone’s got to come catch me and if they do, good luck to them.
“To win the Irish Open would be really cool, whether it’s wire to wire or not. I think it would be a really cool one to put on your resume that you’ve won the Irish Open.”
South Africa’s Justin Harding also stayed in contention with a superb round of 65 — the lowest on the day — with an eagle on the penultimate hole and his seventh birdie on the 18th to cap a good day. He was in third place, three strokes behind Herbert.
Swede Rikard Karlberg, Italian Francesco Laporta and England’s Dale Whitnell were locked in a three-way tie for fourth place at 11-under overall.
“I played OK,” said an understated Herbert, who was loving the limelight at the Dubai Duty Free event. “In one aspect, it’s kind of frustrating. I could have really put a good one away and felt like I got too far away from the majority of the field, but 15 probably has just left the door open a touch.
“So still going to have to really be on it tomorrow. Also it was pretty tough out there. The back nine, the wind was swirling and blowing a lot. Didn’t hit a lot of bad shots, couldn’t quite get some putts to fall. Felt like I maybe played all right but just didn’t get the reward for it. But I can’t be too upset.
“I’m trying to stick to my own goals. If I can get to 20-under, I feel like it’s going to be pretty hard to catch, and if I am caught, someone has played really good golf and they probably deserve to win it. If I can stick to my own goals, hopefully holding a trophy or anything like that takes care of itself.
“The Irish Open is pretty cool and if you can win an event with Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy in the field, I don’t think anyone’s going to try to knock that out of your possession any time soon.
“So tomorrow is a massive chance, and obviously I think in time to come I’ll probably look back on it and realise it more, but at the moment, I’m trying to stay pretty focused on the moment and really feel like I just play my game and let that sort of take care of itself.”