Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (France) (AFP) – Thongchai Jaidee will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the 100th French Open at Golf National, while a birdie blitz kept Rory McIlroy in contention on Saturday.
Thailand’s Thongchai had three birdies in a bogey-free third round of 68 to sit atop the leaderboard ahead of McIlroy and Jeunghun Wang on eight under par.
Four-time major champion McIlroy played the back nine in a stunning total of just 30 strokes to recover from a nightmare start and card a one-under-par 70.
Thongchai started the day in a five-way tie for first with McIlroy, Wang, Brandon Stone and Finn Mikko Ilonen on five under par.
The 46-year-old rolled in back-to-back birdies on the sixth and seventh holes to get to seven under, and added one more on the par-three 11th.
The seven-time European Tour winner is on track to claim his first title of a season in which he is yet to post a top-10 finish.
“I tried to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. That’s very important as the set-up of the course is very difficult,” he said.
“The wind was changing direction all the time, so sometimes you have to hit a bit long and then you’ll be fine.”
– McIlroy tears apart back nine –
McIlroy looked to have played himself out of the tournament after three bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine, but produced fireworks in the closing stages of his round.
A sensational run of five birdies in seven holes from the 11th, including three in a row, dragged the world number four back to within striking distance on six under.
“I’ve given myself a great chance. I was eight behind the lead at one point today, and to only be two back going into tomorrow is nice,” said the 27-year-old.
“I’m going to be in the group ahead of the leaders and hopefully I can give them something to shoot at.”
The Northern Irishman looks close to his best after missing the US Open cut at Oakmont a fortnight ago, but cannot afford another erratic start on Sunday.
“The way I feel with my game is that when it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad it’s difficult to get out of it,” he added.
“You saw the two different ends of the spectrum out there today.
“I just needed something to click and I think that the birdie on 11 was big for me today, just to at least get one back, and then I could go from there.”
South Korean Wang, the world number 74, looked to be heading for sole possession of the lead after four birdies in his first eight holes took him up to nine under par overall.
But the 20-year-old, who picked up his maiden European Tour crowns in consecutive weeks earlier this year in Morocco and Mauritius, struggled on the inward half and signed for a 70 that leaves him level with McIlroy.
Defending champion Bernd Wiesberger is just a single stroke further back on his own in fourth place.
The Austrian clearly likes the Albatros course, which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup, and he bounced back from bogeys on the first two holes to end up on five under, just three adrift of Thongchai.
German two-time major champion Martin Kaymer, the 2009 winner, is still in the hunt on three under after his third round of 68.
Earlier on Saturday, Lee Westwood fired a four-under 67 and he is still in with an outside chance at six strokes back.