WATFORD, England (Reuters) - Alex Noren did his hopes of bagging a third European Tour victory in three months a power of good by galloping three strokes clear of the field after the British Masters third round on Saturday.
The Swede, who won the Scottish Open in July and last month’s European Masters in Switzerland, produced a battling performance at The Grove with a six-under-par 65 giving him a 16-under tally of 197.
Asked what it would mean to achieve a title treble in a single campaign, the 34-year-old told Reuters this week: “It would be unbelievable.
“I didn’t really think about that possibility at the start of the season and it would be amazing to do it.”
On a warm autumnal day just outside London, overnight leader Richard Bland took an early grip on proceedings with birdies at the first two holes.
However, bogeys at the fourth and 12th halted his progress and Noren drove past the Englishman with birdies at the second, sixth, 10th, 15th and 17th.
The Swede then delivered a stunning coup de grace by converting a swinging left-to-right putt from 40 feet for another birdie at the last.
Noren said he had to scrap all the way round to make sure he kept a bogey off his card.
“I struggled off the tee, I was always in the crowd,” he told reporters. “The result doesn’t really show the fighting that went on.”
The weather is expected to take a turn for the worse in Sunday’s final round with showers forecast and even a chance of thunderstorms.
“Hopefully there’s not too much rain,” said Noren who has a total of six tour victories to his credit.
“I know from experience that it’s not that easy to hold leads. Anybody can come from behind and shoot eight-under, you never know.”
Bland, seeking the first win of his career at the age of 43, had to settle for second position on 200 after a 69.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get it done a little ugly and I did that today,” he said. “I said to my caddie that if that’s our worst day and we shoot 69, we should be in with a good shout tomorrow depending on what Alex does.
“He’s a class player. He’s only going to go forwards and we’ve got to go try and catch him.”
Sharing third place on 201 were Swede Peter Hanson, Bernd Wiesberger of Austria, South African Richard Sterne and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
Former world number one Lee Westwood was five off the pace after an error-free 67 while 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell (67) was a further stroke adrift.
McDowell, chasing his first win of the year, ended his round with a disappointing bogey six after three-putting from long range.
“You can’t let a finish like that get you down,” said the Northern Irishman. “I’m feeling as physically good as I have in a long time and mentally I’ve got the hunger back.”
Editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar