World number 481 Clement Sordet was the very last international player invited to the fifth edition of the US$1 million event but he could very well be first past the post if he continues with the kind of shot-playing that saw him scorch his way to a 63, and a two-shot lead at 16-under par heading into the final round.
“It’s pretty much my dream to play with the top players in this field. I think I will do that tomorrow and hopefully I’ll enjoy it and just play my own game,” said the 23-year-old Frenchman, who joined the paid ranks in July and won the Northern Ireland Open on just his fourth start as a professional.
Sitting behind Sordet – plucked from the second-tier Challenge Tour in Europe for his first trip to Thailand – is overnight leader Jamie Donaldson on 14-under after a topsy-turvy one-under 71.
And then comes Westwood.
The Englishman is a master of the Amata Spring layout, having won in 2011 and 2014, and with an eight-under par 64 leaving him at 13-under, the trophy is well and truly in his sights once again.
“I was confident and in control and it has got to do with being on a course which I’ve won twice before. I hit it close a lot today and I played with a new putter,” explained the 42-year-old.
“It feels a lot more stable and I’m rolling the ball quite nicely with it. I’m three behind and I still got to shoot a really low score tomorrow. The guys up there are all good players and I need a really low score to win a hat-trick.”
The charge the packed galleries had hoped for from world number four Bubba Watson never materialized Saturday.
The American signed for an even-par 72 that left him on three under and shaking his head. Watson’s day was summed up succinctly by a six-foot birdie putt on the last that stopped about an inch short.
“It’s not good to leave one short from six feet,” said Watson, who is making his fourth consecutive appearance in Thailand. “It’s how my week’s been and have it’s been every year here – I just can’t get the speeds right on the greens.”
But what everyone wanted to know was who the Frenchman was, and where he’d been hiding, after a round that featured seven birdies and a brilliant eagle on the par-five 15th that showcased Sordet’s length and his touch.
“I just played as good as yesterday and I hit some really good shots and made pretty much every putt,” he said. “I just stayed patient but honestly I had no idea I was nine-under at the end. I just play shot by shot. So nine-under – I’m pretty happy about it.”
Sorbet will be in esteemed company when he takes to the Amata Spring layout for the championship round.
Donaldson, who clinched the winning point for Europe at the 2014 Ryder Cup, had led comfortably across the first two rounds, stumbled with a double bogey on the par-four 12th but still grafted enough out of the round to keep the title within touching distance.
“I was cruising. I was playing not great but doing enough until 12, which was a killer,” said the 40-year-old, who needs victory here in Thailand to force his way into the world’s top-50 and thereby assure himself of a place in the 2016 calendar’s top events.
“I played nicely through quite a few holes, getting momentum swinging back my way. Then I got on to the 12th tee and the shot just wasn’t there. A double there and suddenly from feeling great, to ‘Hang on a minute. Where’s this going?’
“It hasn’t been what I wanted today but tomorrow’s another day and I just have to get off to a quick start. I’ve done enough to stay
in the tournament. I got the most out of a day when there wasn’t much there.”
Still in the hunt also are rising South Korean star – and freshly minted European Tour Rookie of the Year – An Byeong-hun, who sits in fourth after a four-under 68 that left him at 12 under and four off the pace, while world number 12 Sergio Garcia and two-time major winner Martin Kaymer sit tied for fifth a further stroke back on 11-under after rounds of 70 and 72 respectively.
The leading local hope with a round to play is Kiradech Aphibarnrat, whose five-under-par 67 left him tied with a pack of players on eight-under.
“If I could have holed a few more putts I might have jumped up to the top of the leaderboard or been a couple of strokes behind and with a good chance tomorrow,” he said.
“But I love to come back and play locally – a lot of crowds, my friends and family come and support me. It gives me a lot of energy.”
About the Thailand Golf Championship
Organized by Gulf Sports Management and IMG, and sanctioned by the Asian Tour, the fifth edition of the Thailand Golf Championship will be staged at the award-winning Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi between 10-13 December. The Championship, the Asian Tour’s season-ending event, has a total prize purse of US$1 million, and has been part of the Open Qualifying Series since 2014. The Thailand Golf Championship will be broadcast globally by Asian Tour Media and in Thailand by TrueVisions.
Former winners of the Championship are: Lee Westwood (2011), Charl Schwartzel (2012), Sergio Garcia (2013) and Lee Westwood (2014).