A third round of five under par 67 took Jon Rahm to the top of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation leaderboard alongside Daniel Im after a glorious day on the links of Portstewart Golf Club on Northern Ireland’s stunning north coast.
The Spaniard entered Saturday one shot behind overnight leaders Im and Benjamin Hebert and the trio took part in an engaging battle at the top of the leaderboard throughout the day.
Rahm made four birdies in a row from the 11th to take the lead but American Im made a gain of his own on the 14th join him on 17 under and the pair will head into Sunday just a single shot ahead of Frenchman Hebert.
Japanese Hideto Tanihara posted a 66 to move to 15 under, a shot clear of another Frenchman in Julien Quesne who matched the Portstewart course record of 64.
Rahm has risen to 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking this season and will now go in search of his first European Tour Rolex Series title, with Im also looking for a maiden win after narrowly keeping hold of his card last year.
Australian Scott Hend joined Quesne in signing for a 64 to move to 13 under alongside World Number 13 Justin Rose, another Englishman in Oliver Fisher and New Zealander Ryan Fox.
“Patience was key to be honest. I was playing good, making good swings and I was saving a couple of good shots. The putts just weren’t dropping. It was just important to make sure that I was going to stay patient and keep hitting good putts.
“I can think of a couple good putts that didn’t go in, especially four, five, seven the putt for eagle, eight was probably the best putt I hit on the front nine besides the birdie on one that didn’t go in. I just kept telling myself, keep driving it on the fairway and on the green and they will go in.
“I was lucky to make a couple of good ones on 11 and 12, and then the bonus one on 14. That was kind of a Seve birdie, all over the place. And then, as well as I played on the last three holes, the putts didn’t drop but it was still a great round.
“I can’t explain why but it’s been unbelievable to see how the Irish crowd has kind of taken to me. It seems like they decided to support me like if I was one of their own, and it’s been incredible. It does help out when you have that kind of support.
“Hopefully I can enjoy the day as much as I can tomorrow, have fun, enjoy the moment, and let’s see if I can make a few more putts on the front nine like I’ve been doing the first few days.”
“I started out quite slowly. I birdied the first hole, and then everything was quite good today. I felt like I made a lot coming in. I didn’t make that many birdies and I made so many the last couple of days, but I played quite solid. I made two really good putts on the last two holes.
“I loved it today. The weather was great. There were a lot of people out here today supporting us. I just enjoyed every moment of it. I mean, coming down the stretch, I had little goosebumps on the back, so I like it.
“I think I’m just going to enjoy every moment of it tomorrow. It’s always good to be on top of the leaderboard. I’m just going to go out there and do my own thing and see what happens at the end.”
“I was happy, of course of the back nine but the ninth cost me a double-bogey, which wasn’t very good. I hit a very poor drive, and got what I think I deserve. But the birdie on ten, put me in a good position to finish the back nine.
“Of course, it’s a very good thing to be here in this position, I just want to do my work tomorrow, and tonight. I have two hours of work coming this evening with my physio and my fitness, and good practice tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens on the course.”
“There was a lot of good stuff today. I really putted well, which obviously saved me. Obviously that’s what created the birdies but also saved me when I made some mistakes. I didn’t hit many fairways today, so I definitely have practiced this week a lot out of the rough, which is kind of a skill in itself.
“Sometimes in links golf, you don’t get to hit as many fairways as you usually do, and judging by the way the ball comes out of the rough is a skill. I’ve certainly had my fair share this week.
“I think the par fives are the key to good rounds. I think if you can play them three-under a day, I would say that’s kind of the bare minimum for a good round. And then obviously try and pick off a few more when you can.
“I think the weather tomorrow might throw the curveball at us in the sense of, it may get a bit nasty. So I don’t know if that makes chasing easier or more difficult. Because obviously as it is right now, there’s a low score out there. We’ll just have to wait and see. But yeah, this course does offer the opportunity to go low.”
199 J Rahm (Esp) 65 67 67, D Im (USA) 64 67 68,
200 B Hebert (Fra) 64 67 69,
201 H Tanihara (Jpn) 70 65 66,
202 J Quesne (Fra) 70 68 64,
203 J Rose (Eng) 67 70 66, R Fox (Nzl) 67 66 70, O Fisher (Eng) 65 68 70, S Hend (Aus) 71 68 64,
204 M Southgate (Eng) 65 68 71, B Dredge (Wal) 68 69 67,
205 P Uihlein (USA) 69 67 69, S Jamieson (Sco) 70 69 66, P Peterson (USA) 67 67 71, P Hanson (Swe) 68 71 66, A Otaegui (Esp) 68 69 68, R Ramsay (Sco) 68 70 67, T Fleetwood (Eng) 70 67 68,
206 A Wall (Eng) 67 68 71, A Dodt (Aus) 71 66 69, C Shinkwin (Eng) 68 70 68,
207 J Smith (Eng) 69 69 69, M Fraser (Aus) 71 67 69, S Walker (Eng) 69 71 67, L Slattery (Eng) 69 68 70, A Chesters (Eng) 70 67 70, W Ormsby (Aus) 67 70 70, H Matsuyama (Jpn) 67 68 72,
208 P Harrington (Irl) 68 69 71, F Aguilar (Chi) 67 71 70, R Karlsson (Swe) 69 69 70, D Drysdale (Sco) 66 69 73, G Bourdy (Fra) 70 68 70, S Kjeldsen (Den) 68 68 72, S Gallacher (Sco) 67 69 72, H Li (Chn) 68 70 70, F Zanotti (Par) 67 69 72, A Sullivan (Eng) 72 68 68, T Detry (Bel) 70 68 70,
209 A Romero (Arg) 68 71 70, M Pavon (Fra) 71 69 69, J Luiten (Ned) 71 69 69, H Porteous (RSA) 71 66 72, M Armitage (Eng) 71 69 69,
210 S Lowry (Irl) 68 71 71, R Karlberg (Swe) 68 70 72, N Kimsey (Eng) 72 68 70, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 66 72 72, M Hoey (Nir) 68 72 70, P Dunne (Irl) 67 69 74,
211 M Manassero (Ita) 72 66 73, D Stewart (Sco) 67 72 72, D Burmester (RSA) 70 67 74, S Brazel (Aus) 70 70 71, G Moynihan (Irl) 67 71 73, I Poulter (Eng) 68 70 73,
212 C Hanson (Eng) 70 70 72, S Lee (Kor) 68 71 73, E De La Riva (Esp) 70 70 72, R Langasque (Fra) 69 71 72, M Jiménez (Esp) 69 70 73,
213 T Olesen (Den) 71 69 73,
214 D Horsey (Eng) 67 69 78,
215 S Dyson (Eng) 68 72 75,
** J Donaldson (Wal) 66 70 WD,