Singapore: Indian golfer Himmat Rai sparkled with a bogey-free four-under 66 amid blustery conditions to keep a share of the lead and inch closer to his maiden Asian Tour title after the third round of the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Indian, widely tipped as one of the promising stars on the circuit, braved the winds which were so strong on the 18th that players even felt that play could have been stopped or called off.
Himmat, has had rounds of 68, 66 and 66 to total 10-under 200. He has been bogey-free for the last 30 holes now and is tied for lead with Adilson Da Silva of Brazil (65).
The duo was two clear of last year`s runner-up Jbe Kruger (65) and Finland`s Kalle Samooja, who held a share of the lead with Rai after two rounds.
Experienced Thaworn Wiratchant, looking for his 13th Asian Tour win, shot an even-par 70 and dropped to tied sixth at six-under 204.
Of the other Indians who have made the cut, Anirban Lahiri (70), Abhishek Jha (67) and Vinod Kumar (67) were all tied 30th at one-under 209, while Sujjan Singh (70) and Ashok Kumar (70) were tied at 50th at one-over and Mandeo Pathania (73) was four-over 214 in tied 63rd place.
Himmat at nine-under was two behind Da Silva at the 17th tee.
But the young Indian birdied the 17th and moved to 10-under, and then on 18th, the Brazilian playing one group ahead, bogeyed the 18th to fall to 10-under.
Himmat stared at a 20-footer for par to stay in lead and he sank that putt to ensure he was right up there.
After Da Silva dropped a bogey on the challenging 501-yard 18th hole where the players were struggling to reach the green, Rai, chasing a first Asian Tour victory, drained a 20-footer par save to ensure he stayed level with the experienced Brazilian.
"It was tremendous. As a professional golfer, you must know every shot counts out here. I was mentally prepared for that putt," said Rai, who fired birdies on the second, ninth, 11th and 17th holes.
His best finish on Tour was in 2009 at the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia where he also led into the last day and the young Indian hopes to learn from that experience.
"I`m confident what I can control which is my routine. Experience is really important. I`ve got some experience on the Asian Tour playing with the lead. It will definitely help me and I will make a good effort to stick to my processes," said Rai, who is currently 67th on the Order of Merit with one top-10.
Da Silva produced a superb third round five-under 65. The 39-year-old Da Silva, a nine-time winner in South Africa including last weekend, was magnificent at the Orchid Country Club, shooting seven birdies against two bogeys.
Da Silva`s show included a monster birdie putt off the 14th green to give himself a chance of winning a title in his Asian Tour debut season.
South African Jbe Kruger, runner-up here last year and the highest ranked player in the field, charged into contention at the USD 300,000 Asian Tour event with a 65, highlighted by an inward 29 to lie two back alongside Finnish rookie Kalle Samooja, who carded a 68.
A 67 pushed young Korean Baek Seuk-hyun into fifth place on 203 while veteran Thai Thaworn Wiratchant struggled in the winds for an even par 70 to lie a further shot back with South Africa`s Tjaart van der Walt and Englishman Miles Tunnicliff.
The final round tee times have been brought forward on Sunday morning, with the leaders starting at 9.20am due to an expected evening thunderstorm.
Kruger, with three top-10s this year, has been knocking on the door for a first title in Asia and five birdies on his back nine put him in prime position. But he knows Rai and Da Silva will be dangerous on Sunday.