Todd Clements believes his new-found self-belief is what has carried him to a five-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Challenge at The K Club as he targets a first Challenge Tour win.
The 25-year-old Englishman battled through tough conditions on the Palmer South course on Saturday to still card a two-under 70 to set the pace at 15-under-par, five shots clear of Ireland’s Gary Hurley.
Clements was in control throughout as his rivals fell away, picking up one birdie on his front nine along with eight pars, and two more birdies with just one bogey on his back nine has him in a commanding position with just one day left to play.
“I’ve been working hard mentally and I felt like I’ve kept my cool quite well. I’m delighted with how I’m playing, some really solid stuff in tough conditions and I feel like it paid dividends,” he said.
“I think I’ve made some good changes. My support team around me have been really good, really supportive and I’m so thankful for that. My golf coach has really helped, all of them, they’ve played a part. I think last week really helped with my self-belief. I didn’t have my best stuff but got a good result and came here confident.
“I’ve put the time in to try and improve my game, because I felt like I needed it. I took a good step in the right direction. There are a lot of good guys out here and I’ve just been getting my head down, doing what I can control and focus on, and it’s been a really good six months or so.”
Saadiyat Beach-based Hurley assumed the position of closest challenger as an eagle, five birdies and four bogeys in a second consecutive three-under 69 to move into second place at 10-under-par and he is currently in line to win the Christy O’Connor Jr Memorial Trophy for the best Irishman, which also brings with it a place in next year’s Irish Open.
He’s closely followed by Kinsale’s John Murphy, who had a tougher day with five bogeys and three birdies leading to a two-over 74, which dropped him back to nine-under-par but still in sole possession of third, with France’s Gary Stal, England’s Harry Ellis and Italy’s Stefano Mazzoli at eight-under.
It was a rough day for Conor Purcell, the Portmarnock man starting the day alongside Murphy at 11-under and staying in touch for long stretches of the day, but a bogey at the par-four 13th and a triple-bogey eighth at the par-five 18th resulted in a 76 that drops him back into a share of seventh at seven-under-par.
He is alongside Galgorm’s Tom McKibbin, who struggled to find any momentum in signing for two birdies and two bogeys in a level-par 72, but he will know that a good final round will boost his DP World Tour promotion hopes given he is ranked 30th in the Road to Mallorca and needs to crack the top-20 to go up.
Three birdies and three bogeys for Mallow’s James Sugrue led to a 72 of his own to sit one shot further back at six-under-par, just outside the top-10, with Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy recording a one-under 71 to lie five-under-par.
It was a tough day for amateur duo Matthew McClean (Malone) and Robert Moran (Castle), however, as they returned rounds of 76 and 78 to finish the day level-par and two-over-par respectively, with Paul McBride’s 77 dropping him to four-over.