Thrilling climax beckons as three tied at the top

Muscat: The inaugural NBO Oman Open is poised for a dramatic conclusion with Julien Guerrier, Joost Luitten and Matthew Southgate all tied for the lead at 12 under par after the third round at Al Mouj Golf as the first edition of the European Tour event heads into its final day in Muscat.
Frenchman Guerrier has visited the Al Mouj Golf course on four occasions with the European Challenge Tour and he put his local knowledge to use with a captivating round of 66 which was bookended by two sensational birdies and featured a wonderful eagle on the 12th.
His red-hot putter was responsible for the magic on the first and 12th holes, with mammoth putts on each shaving three strokes off his round. But it was a piece of gilt edged wedge play which set up his sixth and final birdie of the day as he fired his approach onto the green and past the pin from 119 yards before some delicious backspin brought the ball back to within a few feet of the hole.
“The last one was my favourite shot,” said Guerrier who revealed his determination to establish himself on the European Tour after spending the majority of his career on the Challenge Tour. “It was a really good one, I had the perfect distance to attack it so I tried to go for it. It’s a firm green so you have to have some spin on the ball.
“I’ve played four times here so I know the course quite well and I think it made the difference as on some holes you can go for it, and some you can’t, so I think it helped.
“I’ve played a lot of years on the Challenge Tour — I’ve played a couple of years on the European Tour in the past too and I want to stay here now!
Dutchman Luiten matched Guerrier’s score with a second consecutive 66 which featured seven birdies and just one bogey.
“It was another perfect day,” said the 32-year-old who is searching for his sixth win on the European Tour and his first since 2016. “There was some wind in the afternoon, but it was a light breeze which cooled things down beautifully. I played good golf. I played solid and did not get into any trouble. One bogey and seven birdies… What more do you want?”
Southgate, meanwhile, signed for 69 having steadied the ship after a particularly turbulent front nine which included with four birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. But the Englishman, who is in the hunt for his first title, had a novel method of keeping his mind focused on the job in hand down a blemish-free back nine.
“It was quite funny really, we birdied the ninth and I walked off and said to my caddie Gary, ‘that was nine pars Gaz, I don’t know what you’re talking about’,” said Southgate.
“He laughed and I said, I’m serious, we can create any outcome that we want in our mind and we’ve just shot level par for nine holes so let’s just pretend that we’ve made nine solid pars, that we haven’t holed a putt, haven’t made a birdie and let’s just start again on the tenth.
“That’s exactly what we did and we executed the game plan and I’ve got a 69 on the card, so it was a good day’s work.”
Southgate, who is in the hunt for his first title, resolved to take the same positive mindset into Sunday’s final round.
“I’d love to get a win over the line but ultimately I need to learn everything I can moving forwards,” he said. “I think that’s really important tomorrow — to be open-minded enough that whatever the outcome, we’ve got to take new things on board and realise that this might be a position that we might end up in a few more times, maybe this season or the rest of my career so that’s the goal — hit good shots, make good decisions but learn stuff as well.”
The top three will have to be at their best if they are to become the first ever NBO Oman Open champion. Englishman Chris Wood is just one stroke back at 11 under while talented Spaniard, Adrian Oteagui, sits at 10 under and Frenchman Alexander Levy, who is currently 11th in the Race to Dubai and needs to get into the top ten in the rankings in order to secure a spot in next month’s WGC-Mexico Championship, is in sixth place at 9-under.
The final round of the NBO Oman Open gets underway on Sunday at 6.45 am with the closing ceremony scheduled to take place at approximately 4.15 pm.