Jon Rahm heads to the final round sharing the lead and determined to emulate Spanish greats including the late Seve Ballesteros in capturing the Irish Open at Portstewart.
Rahm, 22 birdied four holes in succession from his 11th hole in a third round of 67 on Saturday to move to 17-under par where he was joined by American Daniel Im.
“Patience was the key for me as I was playing good, making good swings and I was saving a couple of good shots,” said Rahm.
“It was just the putts weren't dropping.”
The 32-year old Californian-based Im continues to defy his lowly 542nd World Ranking in staying atop of the board in the $7 million event and managing five birdies in his four under 68.
“I loved it today as the weather was great, and there were a lot of people out here supporting us. I just enjoyed every moment of it,” said Im.
“I mean, coming down the stretch, I was quite -- I had little goosebumps on the back of my -- on the back. So I like it.”
Frenchman Benjamin Hebert, who shared the lead with Im for the first two days, bounced back from a ninth-hole double-bogey to birdie three of his remaining nine holes in a three-under 69 and trail just a shot behind on 16-under par.
His French compatriot, and also fellow house guest, Julien Quesne equalled Hebert’s course record of day one with an eight-under 64 and moments after Australia’s Scott Hend had done the same.
- 'special day' -
It was both the Le Mans-born Quesne and the Townsville-born Hend equal lowest rounds on the European Tour, and with Quesne lying fifth on 14-under and Hend a shot further back.
Rahm arrived in Northern Ireland one of the hottest golfers this season having brilliantly won the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open early in the year and weeks later finishing third in the WGC Mexico Championship before handing World No. 1 Dustin Johnson a shock in the final of the WGC Match-Play Championship in Texas.
Now Rahm could emulate the feats of Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and current Masters champion, Sergio Garcia in winning an Irish Open.
Ballesteros endeared himself to Irish fans winning three Irish Opens in 1983, 1985 and 1986.
Olazabal won in 1990 while Garcia, as a then 19-year old, won the first of now a dozen European Tour victories in winning the 1999 Irish Open at Druids Glen.
“Well, I'm going to try to make it as least as important as possible so I don't put pressure on myself,” said Rahm.
“But it could be a very special day, right. This tournament has a very good Spanish history and it would be amazing to join that.
“Hopefully I can enjoy the day as much as I can, 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.”
However, Hebert has not ruled himself out of a maiden Tour success in his 136th event, and in what would be a sensational way to end a run of three missed cuts ahead of arriving in Northern Ireland.
“We worked a lot last weekend in France, and the game came back so I'm very happy about this,” he said.
“Of course, it's a very good thing to be here in this place, but I just want to do my work tomorrow, and tonight, also.
"I have like two hours of work coming with my physio and my fitness, and good practise tomorrow, and yeah, we'll see what happens on the course.”