Darren Clarke has been waiting more than two years for his 13th European Tour victory and he can lift the curse in Bahrain on Sunday if he displays the kind of patience that marked his third round 67 in the Volvo Golf Champions.
The 42-year old Ulstermen goes into the final day just a stroke behind leaders Paul Casey (66) and Peter Hanson (67), tied for third with South Africa’s James Kingston on 15 under par.
There is a wealth of talent lurking within four shots of the lead including Miguel Angel Jiménez (14 under), Matteo Manassero, Johan Edfors and Stephen Gallacher (13 under) with the Molinari brothers Edoardo and Francesco tied with Alexander Noren and David Horsey on minus 12.
Casey and Hanson looked particularly comfortable on Saturday but for a while they were all chasing Clarke, who went through the turn in 32 blows to lead on 14 under.
The Ulsterman has been plagued by inconsistent putting for his entire career but things have been particularly frustrating for him since his last Ryder Cup appearance at The K Club in 2006.
Yes, he won twice in 2008 but he has picked up nothing more than a new nickname from his management team over the past few years - The Prince.
One would not be surprised to learn that The Prince is short for The Prince of Darkness given Clarke’s famous black moods. But he has largely been all smiles in recent months and his bogey free 67 showed the kind of patience and maturity that has been lacking in his play for quite some time.
Armed with a new putting stroke, courtesy of a two-hour practice session with Jose Maria Olazábal following their early exit from the Abu Dhabi Championship last week, Clarke has averaged 29 putts per round for the first three days.
He’s driving it well and hitting his irons close, which has taken the pressure off his putting. Having missed just seven of 54 greens so far, he’s managed to take his birdie haul to 19 and made just one bogey in his last 36 holes.
And it was fascinating to watch him go about his business on the back nine in round three as he missed several excellent chances. In the bad old days, the red mist might have descended. But Clarke’s patience remained intact and he got his reward at the last, holing a 14 footer for birdie to get to 15 under.
Casey missed a clear cut chance from inside five feet to lead on his own. Had Clarke missed and Casey holed, you would have felt that the man overlooked for a Ryder Cup wildcard last year by the course designer Colin Montgomerie was destined to go on and win the tournament.
Instead, it was Clarke who walked off the final green with a wide grin on his face and Casey who looked slightly crestfallen.
“My putting in general has held me back these past three or four years but it feels a lot better. It is a lot easier to enjoy the game when you are holing putts,” Clarke said.
Asked about the marked improvement in his putting, he replied: “It’s definitely been an awful lot better. Even the ones I miss have been quality strokes, which is a pleasant change. Jose Maria told me it would take a while.”
It remains to be seen which Darren Clarke will turn up on Sunday, when he goes out with Kingston in the penultimate group. Will we get the Prince of Portrush or the Prince of Darkness?
No doubt the Irish survivors will wish him well. Michael Hoey is tied for 33rd on seven under after a third round 68 with Padraig Harrington joint 52nd on four under after a frustrating 73 that featured three birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey five at the 174-yard seventh.
Dubliner Peter Lawrie raced through the back nine in four under par 32 but when he turned for home, he bogeyed the four holes in a row from the second and needed a birdie four at the ninth to card a 71 that leaves him tied for 56th on three under.