By Kent Gray
A maiden European Tour title is Erik van Rooyen’s to lose heading into the final round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The 28-year-old South African will take a four shot lead over big-hitting Kiwi Ryan Fox and Swede Joakim Lagergren into Sunday at Ballyliffin following a third round 66 to move to -14 for the Rolex Series event.
Van Rooyen has three top-10s since graduating from the Challenge Tour last season, including a runner-up finish at December’s Joburg Open which clinched a spot in the 147th Open Championship beginning Thursday week.
He’s in pole-position to make his main tour breakthrough but refuses to get ahead of himself. Fox, also chasing his first European Tour title, and recent Rocco Forte Sicilian Open winner Lagergren will do everything in their power to ensure that too.
“I would love to get a win but that’s 24 hours from now,” said van Rooyen who started Saturday in a share of the lead before pouring in six birides in an outward nine of 29 to streak away from the field. Nine straight pars coming home cemented his cushion.
“I’ve been in this position before, maybe not in a Rolex Series, but it’s golf. Go hit the ball, hit on the green and make the putt. We’ll do that tomorrow.”
Fox finished in a tie for fourth in the corresponding event at Portstewart last year to clinch a start in the Open and goes into Sunday again poised to punch his ticket to the final major of the year providing he can remain one of three players inside the top 10 who haven’t already qualified. As well as advancing to Carnoustie, the 31-year-old New Zealander is determined to kick-on from four-top 10s in his 11 Rolex Series starts thus far and has vowed to attack Ballyliffin Sunday to achieve just that.
“Don’t do anything different,” Fox said of his Sunday approach after a 70 on Saturday. “I’ve taken the golf course on the last three days and it seemed to work.
“It’s going to be very condition-dependent again but if we get a day like this, I’ll be doing what I did – hit driver everywhere and try to hit wedges in and see if I can hole some putts.
“I’ve been lucky, I guess we’ve taken the theory that bogeys aren’t a bad score. I’ve been driving the ball really well and made a couple of bogeys from bad tee-shots but given myself a lot of chances from good tee shots.
“It’s going to take birdies to win it. It’s going to require a decent round of golf and five or six under has been a tough score to get this week so I’ll be trying. We’ll see what happens, I’m not going to change the mindset.”
Lagergren fired a near flawless 69 in the third round but was frustrated not to make more of moving day with all three birdies coming on the front nine.
“I know I’ve got a low one in there,” he said.
Former Mastes champion Danny Willett, in a welcome return to form, starts the final round five back after recovering from an early double bogey on Saturday to sign for a 69. Scot Russell Knox is a further shot back.