KARACHI: Another year, another compelling finish in store at the Chief of Naval Staff Open Golf Championship.

And it may well end with Pakistan’s top professional golfer Shabbir Iqbal at the top of the pile for a third straight edition after Saturday’s final round.

The two-time defending champion made his move at the Karachi Golf Course in Friday’s third round when he fired a sensational eight-under 64 to move within a stroke of leader Mohammad Shehzad (65).

On a day when there was considerable movement at the top of the leaderboard, Shehzad took top spot ahead of the last 18 holes of the Rs11.1million championship with an overall 12-under 204.

Overnight leader Matloob Ahmed, the 2019 champion, slipped to fourth after a round of 71 while Ahmed Baig, who won the Pakistan Open last week, went a place down to third at 206 with a penultimate-round 68.

In each of the last two editions, Shabbir has come from behind in the final round to clinch the title. At the start of this year, he prevailed in a thrilling playoff against Mohammad Munir. That was his 13th title in 26 editions of the tournament and it came six months after he edged Ahmed by a stroke.

Shabbir looks in ominous form yet again. Having teed off four strokes adrift of Matloob, Shabbir fired an eagle on the third hole and then sank birdies on the fifth and sixth.

He went on to fire three successive birdies from the ninth and completed a bogey-free round with another birdie on the last hole.

Shehzad, in the same flight as Shabbir, however ensured he would end the day top with an eagle on the 17th, just after he had bogeyed the previous hole. Having started the day two strokes off the lead, Shehzad also struck six birdies.

Ahmed fired five birdies to stay close to stay two off the lead while Matloob, who had been top since the opening day, finds himself four behind Shehzad.

Mohammad Munir (68) is in a tie for fifth at 210 with Mohammad Ashfaq (71) with Mohammad Naeem (68) a shot further behind.

Noman Ilyas continues to lead the amateurs’ competition after he fired a stunning 69 to move to 220, six shots clear of Omar Khalid (73). Arsalan Shikoh Khan (74) is third at 228 heading into the final round.

Mohammad Tariq opened the two-round senior professionals’ contest with a splendid 67 to open a seven-shot lead over Ejaz Hussain, Pervez Akhtar and Mohammad Akhtar.

Competition for the junior professionals’ crown is much tighter with Rashid Baig (75) holding a slim one-shot lead over Ashass Amjad.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2023

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