Niall Kearney knows a maiden DOP World Tour win would be “huge” for his career, after scoring two under 69 to enter the final round of the Soudal Open just three strokes off the lead.
The Royal Dublin man (34) doesn’t have a full card this year but will have a chance to get that right on Sunday as he shares fourth place with eight under par behind New Zealander Ryan Fox at Rinkven International in Antwerp.
“I played really well. I hit the ball really well, made the turn at three points and left a pair out there, especially in the front row,” Kearney said.
“I felt like I could have turned it around too. I’m giving myself a lot of chances, but I didn’t really hit anything.”
Two behind Germany’s Matti Schmid and England’s Sam Horsfield and Dale Whitnell overnight, Kearney made a 12-foot two in the second from 201 yards before bouncing up and down the sand making an eight-foot two for a birdie four. on the fifth.
A three-foot wedge in the eighth saw him reach the turn at three-under par 33, but he missed a shot in the 10th after being forced to give up the rough, then ended up with eight straight pars when his putter went cold.
The two-time Irish PGA champion and former Walker Cup star had chances to close in on the lead, but missed five feet per birdie in 11th and 12th and one eight feet in 16th to find himself tied for fourth with Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti. Marcel Schneider of Germany and Oliver Bekker of South Africa in eight below.
Despite those flaws, Kearney is confident he can give himself enough chances on Sunday to return home with a career-changing win.
“I’m just hitting the ball well,” said the Dubliner, who recently became a father for the first time after the birth of twin girls.
“I’ve worked really hard the last few weeks (with coach Eddie Doyle) just to get a small draw in my game and I’m comfortable again.
“My hitting the ball is good. I feel like I know what it’s going to start, and I know where it’s going to bend. giving me a lot of chances.”
Asked what could happen, as he has only played four times this year, failing to keep his card, he said: “It’s huge.
“I hope to have more opportunities this year, but this is obviously an excellent opportunity right now.”
He will start in the third final group with Schneider looking to keep hitting fairways and greens.
“I think I have to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Give me 10 to 12 good chances and I hope to drop the ball in the hole.”
The joint leaders of the night, Schmid and Whitnell, hit an over 72s to drop back to eighth tied with seven under as Fox, a two-time DP World Tour winner, surged up the field.
The mighty Kiwi missed the first before making six birdies with five of them over the last eight holes as he came home at 30 for a 66 to claim a one-shot lead over fellow two-time champion Horsfield, who hit 69, at 11 under, with German Yannick Paul alone in third with nine under, after 68.
“I played very solid in the back, to be honest, I hit some putts too, and I hope I figured something out after some clumsy plays early in the round, and it felt pretty good from the tenth hole onwards,” Fox said. . “So I hope I can take this to tomorrow.
“I’ve also been in contention for the last couple of weeks and haven’t done much on Sunday so I’m looking forward to being in the mix again.
“Obviously Sam Horsfield is also playing good golf, and he’s a great player, so I hope we have a good fight tomorrow.”
As for 14-year-old Ukrainian amateur Lev Grinberg, the teenager hit a five over 76 to split the 59th into two over the top on his home run.