Irish Open: Van Rooyen leads by four as Willett and Rahm stay in hunt
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 08/07/18 11:24pm
Erik van Rooyen will take a commanding four-shot lead into the final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after firing a superb bogey-free 66 on day three.
Van Rooyen surged clear of the field with a stunning outward 29 on the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin, although he was unable to extend his advantage after the turn as nine consecutive pars kept him at 14 under par.
Joakim Lagergren and Ryan Fox lead the chasing pack, while Danny Willett recovered from a poor front nine with five birdies on the inward half, including four in a row from the 11th, as he hauled himself back to within five strokes of the leader.
Jon Rahm revived his hopes of retaining the title as he raced to the turn in 30 but, like Van Rooyen, the Spaniard parred every hole coming home and will now have to overturn an eight-shot deficit to lift his third Rolex Series trophy on Sunday.
Van Rooyen was in inspired form in the early stages of the third round as he birdied three of the first four holes before reeling off three in a row from the seventh to break 30 for the front nine.
The South African avoided any mishaps down the stretch, but the birdie putts dried up and he settled for a 66 which leaves him in prime position to collect a maiden win on the European Tour.
"The mindset was just to keep going," Van Rooyen said. "I wasn't very much aware of my score or the situation. You sometimes get in a groove as a golfer where things just happen and you hit great shots and great putts and that's what happened.
"It wasn't different on the back nine, it was just different holes, different conditions, different everything. I still played great and I wish I could have birdied the two par-fives but, all in all, I think it was a good day.
"I would love to get a win but that's 24 hours from now. I've been in this position before, maybe not in a Rolex Series, but it's golf. Go hit the ball, hit it on the green and make the putt. We'll do that tomorrow."
Lagergren was another player to par every hole on the back nine as he returned a 69 which earned him a place in the final pairing on Sunday, while overnight co-leader Fox needed late birdies at 16 and 17 to salvage a two-under 70 as both look to secure two of the three places on offer for The 147th Open.
Willett's title hopes looked in tatters when he double-bogeyed the second and dropped another shot at the eighth to slip to four under, but the 2016 Masters champion rallied with four straight birdies from the 11th before taking advantage of the long 17th for the third day running.
A par at the last capped a spirited 69 which left him one shot ahead of Russell Knox, who enjoyed a sparkling spell mid round when he followed three birdies in four holes around the turn with one of only two eagles at the 13th on the day.
But the Scot dropped back to eight under with a disappointing bogey-six at the 17th as he carded a 68, while Lee Westwood fired a four-birdie 70 to close on seven under alongside French duo Matthieu Pavon (73) and Raphael Jacquelin, who was the other player to eagle the 13th in a round of 68.
Rahm made a significant early move with four birdies over the first five holes before two more at eight and nine lifted him to seven under, but that was where the defending champion stayed as he failed to convert further opportunities down the stretch.
Tournament-host Rory McIlroy will be playing for pride on Sunday as he offset four birdies with as many bogeys on another day of frustration on the Ballyliffin greens, his 72 leaving him 11 shots adrift of the leader.