Justin Walters remained on course for a maiden European Tour title at the ISPS HANDA UK Championship but two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer put himself firmly in contention on day three at The Belfry.
South African Walters, who is looking to complete a wire-to-wire victory after taking charge with a stunning opening 64 on Thursday, carded a three under par 69 to reach 12 under to sit two clear of Kaymer, who surged through the field with a thrilling 66.
Walters – who was been a runner-up three times on the European Tour, with two of those results coming in Portugal to keep his card – made a perfect start with a birdie from 20 feet at the first. The 39-year-old gained further shots at the fifth, seventh and 14th, either side of a dropped shot on the 11th, to double his overnight advantage.
Kaymer made his move into a share of second alongside Frenchman Benjamin Herbert, as the German seeks a first European Tour win since his comprehensive U.S. Open victory at Pinehurst. It has been 2268 days since the 35-year-old romped to his second Major title by an eight shot margin, and he has welcomed the challenge of being in contention once again at an iconic golf course.
English pair Marcus Armitage and Laurie Canter, Spain’s Jorge Campillo and Denmark’s Rasmus Højgaard share fourth on seven under par – five shots off the lead and three adrift of Kaymer and Hebert.
Justin Walters: “I was really impressed with myself to be honest. I’ve never been in this position – on a Friday I don’t think I’ve ever led a tournament – but I woke up unusually calm. Just wanted to go out there and stick with what I thought. Keep playing aggressively and whatever came my way came my way. I stayed with it, gave myself the best chance of making birdies. For the most part I just wanted to be aggressive and I think that panned out for me today.
“I escaped last year by the skin of my teeth to keep my card. I came out with great intentions to fix the inconsistency and I really did think I would make some ground this year. It just hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s my approach, how I’ve been going about things, but it’s certainly not been my swing or my team. It’s probably just down to me and how I approached it.
“I hired a new caddie at the beginning of the year, and we tried to implement some stuff but we didn’t quite get into the flow of it after we stopped playing. I certainly started to feel a bit of a difference come the first week at Celtic Manor. Just made more putts really. Last week we got blown away and I thought “back to the drawing board”. But I stuck at it, with a slight change again on top of what I’ve been doing, it seems to be panning out.
“I played with Martin (Kaymer) in Saudi earlier this year in the third round. Lovely guy, got on well with him. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you are you’ve got to get into that final group. I’ll be worried about what I’m doing, and I’ll enjoy it. I’ve worked my whole life to be in these situations, so why run away from it or be worried about it. I’ll just go and play and trust my work, trust my talent, trust my ability to get the job done.
“It would be huge (to win) there’s no lying about that. I’m 39 now, you wonder how many opportunities you will get going forward with all the youngsters coming through. Maybe like a good red wine I’ll get better with age, but I don’t know, it would be nice to take advantage tomorrow.”
Martin Kaymer: “If you hit fairways it was OK. They had some tricky pin positions especially the front nine. Also, on the front nine you have some tough tee shots. Usually the fairways are fairly wide, or they feel wide as there is very little rough, so even if you hit it in the rough you have a chance to get on the green without a problem.
“Overall, it was probably the toughest day, even though they put some tee boxes – like on ten – forward, it was still tricky to create birdie chances out there with those tricky pin positions. I was hitting the ball fine the last three days, I just needed one of those days where the putter was good and hot. This was one of those days.
“This is where I feel comfortable (on the European Tour), where I don’t need to adjust at all. Obviously, I don’t speak my language, but I’ve been out here for 15 years. You see all the players and caddies that you have hung out with for the last 15 years. I don’t want to say family but it’s very close, having as much comfort as possible.”
Benjamin Hebert: “It was tough for me because I struggled a lot with my tee shots, especially on the front nine. But then I managed my rhythm a little better on the back nine. Also, my putting was pretty solid today so I’m pretty happy.
“There were some gusts, the same as yesterday. Sometimes you play with wind, sometimes without. Sometimes you plan to play without and then it comes in so it’s really hard. You need a little bit more time than usual, but the referees are still there to put us under pressure. It was pretty tough but also the course was pretty fair. Still good.
“Same as usual (plan for tomorrow). Stay in the present moment, become confident and concentrate on myself. I think the conditions will be a little better tomorrow. Hopefully it is going to be sunny because we are still in the summer, even if it doesn’t really look like it. The course is in good condition also so hopefully we are going to enjoy the day.”