BENJAMIN Hebert recorded the lowest nine-hole score on the European Tour since 2015 as the Frenchman tore apart the back nine at the 25th Volvo China Open with an eight-under 28 to storm into a three-stroke lead heading into the final round.
The 32-year-old is a six-time winner on the European Challenge Tour but has not yet made his European Tour breakthrough, and he looked completely out of the running as he reached the turn six shots off the lead held by home hope Wu Ashun.
On a topsy-turvy day at Genzon Golf Club, the Chinese star stumbled with four successive bogeys midway through the back nine, while Hebert was on fire – his back nine of eight birdies and an eagle – at the 17th – was rounded off with a stunning 3-2-3-3 finish.
Herbert said: “That’s golf, a crazy game isn’t it. I played very badly in the front nine, where I didn’t feel good in my swing and just tried to keep focused on what I’m going and I found my rhythm in the back nine so I’m happy.
“I had driver on the ninth which didn’t help me a lot, and I feel very confident with my three wood I can hit it low and long which helped me a lot on the back nine.
“It’s my first time leading after 54 holes and we’ll see. I’ve worked to be in this position and it’s going to be a very early start so hopefully we’ll have some good conditions and we’ll see what happens.
“I don’t want to look ahead, I just want to focus on the rest of my day, my rest and see what happens tomorrow.”
South African Justin Walters was the last man to card an eight-under 28 over nine holes in 2015 – while there have been scores of 28 in recent years, including Oliver Fisher’s en route to an historic 59 in Portugal last year, all were seven-under totals.
That earned Hebert a 64 and a three-shot advantage on 17-under, with Mikko Korhonen, from Finland, and Spain’s Jorge Campillo – a winner last week at the Trophée Hassan II – the closest challengers on 14 under.
Korhonen said: “It was good today. I hit the ball a little bit better, made a lot more birdie chances and I made it happen. I didn’t realise I was at the top of the leaderboard until the final hole when I saw the leaderboard – and saw Ashun had bogeyed – so I was surprised to be up there.
“I have been patient, I was patient all day today and I’ll try to keep up tomorrow. I will try and play pretty much the same tomorrow. It might be a wet day so patience will be the key once again.”
Campillo said: “It was a good round. I didn’t putt as well as the first two days but overall it was a very good round. I got my round going on nine and managed to save par on 11 and I played my finishing holes well with those two birdies.
“I wish I could make more putts but it was good as I have a chance tomorrow. It was exciting for the crowd as they brought the 18th tee box up.
“It provided you with chances for eagle or birdie. I hope to use my experience from last week to win but if Benjamin plays like he did today, then it’s tough. Hopefully I have a chance tomorrow.”
The home fans will still retain some hope of a Chinese victory, with Wu a shot further back on 13 under after finishing with a level par 72, having been four shots clear of the field standing on the 11th tee.
Wu said: “I had a very good start but got into trouble in the back-nine. I don’t understand how I got those four bogeys. I hit some really bad tee shots, making it tough for myself to save par after that.
“When I finished playing the 15th, I told myself I had a good chance of making birdies in the last three holes and I was happy I managed to birdie 16. The crowds were great and I’m very happy to see so many of them out here this week.”