Close pals Anirban Lahiri and Chikkarangappa S. are set to meet in a mouth-watering final day shoot-out after being one shot ahead of the chasing pack at the Venetian Macao Open here on Saturday.
Lahiri, the reigning Asian Tour number one, and Chikkarangappa carded matching two-under-par 69s in the third round at the Macau Golf and Country Club to jointly lead the $1.1 million Asian Tour tournament on 10-under-par 203.
The Thai trio of Rattanon Wannasrichan (65), Pavit Tangkamolprasert (68), Sutijet Kooratanapisan (70), Spaniard Carlos Pigem (69) and India's Rashid Khan (66) are only a stroke behind the leading duo while another Thai, Chapchai Nirat, battled at a 69 to lie two off the pace.
England's Ian Poulter fought to a level par 71, leaving himself five shots back and with an outside chance for a win in his first tournament in four months following a foot injury.
All eyes will be on Lahiri and Chikkarangappa, who grew up together in Bengaluru. Being six years older, Lahiri, 29, has achieved success with seven Asian Tour wins and is now plying his trade mainly in the United States while the latter is bidding for a maiden Asian Tour title.
"It'll be tough. Chikka is a fierce competitor, I know it. It'll be good to battle it out with him. But it's not just me and him as there are so many guys in it. Anybody who shoots 63 or 64 has a chance to win. You can't rule anyone out," said Lahiri, winner of the Venetian Macao Open in 2014 and runner-up in 2013 and last year.
"It'll be serious business (with Chikka) but we care very deeply for each other. There's no doubt neither of us would like the other person to win unless the person himself doesn't win. If it's not me, I would like for him to win but I definitely like to win myself more than him and that's the same for him."
In-form Chikkarangappa, who has enjoyed two top-10s in as many weeks, overcame a double bogey on 11 with three birdies soon after to keep himself in the title hunt against his mentor.
"We're brothers," said the 23-year-old Chikka, whose best finish on the Asian Tour to date was tied fourth in Bangladesh earlier this year.
"Anirban moved from Hyderabad to Bengaluru and I'm the village boy and he didn't know the local language and we became friends. I would help him to buy groceries and we would practice together and kept motivating each other.
"He inspires me ? makes me to try and follow in his footsteps. He always challenges me to do better than him. It'll be a dream to play with Anirban. It's been a long time since we last played competitive golf together. We'll have a blast," he added.
Rattanon, 21, produced the day's best of 65 with one eagle and six birdies. Like Chikkarangappa, he is also chasing a first win on the Asian Tour and was inspired when his regular Tour roommate Poom Saksansin broke through in Indonesia last weekend.
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