Thomas Pieters seeking a return to the winner’s circle: Final round preview of the Portugal Masters

The European star of the 2016 Ryder Cup shares the lead with Frenchman Matthieu Pavon at Dom Pedro.

Five years ago the future seemed golden for Thomas Pieters.

The Belgian had turned professional in 2013, lost in a play-off on his European Tour rookie campaign in 2014, claimed two titles in 2015, landed a third in 2016, earned a wildcard pick for that year's Ryder Cup, and then top-scored for Darren Clarke's team.

He even impressed when taking a step up in class on the PGA Tour and in the World Golf Championship in 2017.

But in reality he was starting to find life a little less straightforward than in those giddy early years on tour.

He's added just the one victory in the last five years and his top five accumulation reveals the extent of his problems: 13 of them in the four years to the end of 2017; just three in the five years since (and none in 2021).

This Sunday he has the opportunity to end that drought in the perfect style.

His third round of 65 leaves him tied at the top of the Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro on 16-under 197 alongside France's Matthieu Pavon.

The two are fully four shots clear of Lucas Bjerregaard in solo third, with Kristoffer Broberg alone in fourth a further shot in arrears.

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Pieters and Pavon clearly have a big advantage over the field and the Belgian will also be aware that his playing partner is chasing a first European Tour win - he also knows that Bjerregaard, although a past champion of the event, has been in even worse form than himself in recent years and needs a top three finish to secure his playing rights for 2022.

It's an intriguing final day proposition.

Let's take a closer look at the stats and the leading contenders.

Dom Pedro stats

12 of the 14 winners of this event were within four blows of the lead after 54 holes, which is obviously great news for the top three. Those below them will be hoping for a repeat of David Lynn's six shot comeback from T16th in 2013 or Richard Green's astounding 2010 performance (he started the day seven back of the lead, T15th and won by two).

The last seven winners here all ranked top five for both Putt Average and Putts per Round - they were draining lots of looks at birdie and also mopping up missed greens and avoiding three putts.

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Thomas Pieters

He's 2-for-6 at converting a 54 hole lead, but both wins came from being alone in that lead. He's hung around, always finishing in the top five from this position. He ranks third and 15th in the putting categories.

He said: "The front nine was really tough with the wind, we got lucky and it died down on the back nine. The front nine was brutal. The wind switched every five seconds, it felt like. I putted well, gave myself plenty of chances and it was nice to walk off with a putt like that.

"I felt like I played well all day. I'm not going to make any excuses but I had a mud ball on the par five, the fifth. I had five mud balls on the first nine. I finished well. I hit a terrible three wood into 12, got away with it and made the putt. In my head that was like a two or three shot swing, I was very positive after that."

Matthieu Pavon

New territory for him. He's never led at this point, but has been second three times on the European and Challenge Tours. He's yet to win at either level. He ranks fifth and 10th in the two key categories.

He said: "It feels great. I took that putt personally (on 18), because I made a three putt on 17, so I wanted revenge on the 18th, which was a tough hole. I'm really proud of it.

"I just focused a lot on the pace (of the greens), that's the main thing. I feel like I have had good reads this week, after that it's just the pace. The only putts where I missed the pace were 17 and 11, I gave myself a little bit of work. After a full field, the greens sometimes aren't good at the end of the day. The key was good pace, leaving less pressure on the putt back.

"It will be the same tomorrow. I try to hit as many greens as possible, this is the way I was today, focused on every shot and trying to hit every shot as if it was the most important in my life. The focus was good and narrowed compared to yesterday, so I will try and bring this mentality with me into tomorrow."

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Lucas Bjerregaard

A two-time winner on the European Tour, he claimed this title in 2017 when leading by one, and added the following year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship when four back with 18 holes to play. Interesting. He's 17th and 10th in putting.

He said: "I didn't have my best today. I drove it poorly, but all-in-all it wasn't too bad. I was a little disappointed with the finish. I hit a good drive on 17 and was able to go for the green, but I hit it in the water and made bogey. That was disappointing, it would have been nice to make a birdie there.

"This week and next week, it's all about the result. I haven't played well these last three days, it's not been pretty or fairway-green all the time, but I don't really care. I just have to get the job done. It doesn't matter where I hit it, I just have to hit it better next time.

"It's all about the result. It's all on me. No one else is going to get me over the line. I'm going to go out and try and win this thing, that'll take care of everything."

If he is distracted by the twin aims of victory and card retention might playing partner and recent winner Broberg beat him today?

Conclusion

Pieters is odds on at 4/5, Pavon 7/4 and Bjerregaard 14/1.

With Pieters far from being the most ruthless winners odds on is not a thrilling prospect, nor is the price of the Frenchman. Bjerregaard could pounce and will attract some interest. It might be a case of steering clear, however.

Could anyone fly from the pack and set a target like Lynn and Green? Richard Bland finally got over the winning line this year, he ranks first and second for putting, he's seven back of the lead (but only three back of third if the leaders have shockers).

He's also signed for a 68 or better in each of his last six Sundays at Dom Pedro - more importantly three times he had a 65 or a 64. None of this would matter if he was 33s, but at 80/1 it merits a small stake.

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