TRAVERSE CITY — Eric Lilleboe thinks he had some luck on his side.
The 31-year-old nailed a 65-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to push his third-round lead to five strokes at the Michigan Open Championship at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa's The Bear golf course on Wednesday.
He found himself on the edge of the sprawling final green with a sea of short grass between himself and the hole. Lilleboe dropped the winding putt to card a 65, pushing his three day score to 13-under.
That wasn't all the luck the Okemos native experienced during the third round. After going 4-under through the first ten holes, Lilleboe's tee shot fell to the left and bounced over the cart path. Spotters searched and found his ball nestled in the four inches between the cart path and the out of bounds line.
"So lucky," Lilleboe said about the shot. "I was so grateful to get up there and see that half of my ball was in bounds and I was able to take cart path relief."
He found himself in another bad spot on his next shot but recovered for par. He bogeyed the next hole before a birdie on No. 14.
The rain that plagued the early morning golfers started again as Lilleboe teed-off on No. 15, but he said it helped him more than hurt him.
"It helps that the green were softened up a little bit," Lilleboe said of the rain. "I was short sided a couple of times and able to get it up and down because the greens were a bit softer. But a lot of it was luck. I made a couple of 30 footers for par."
Lilleboe, who was in the final group on day four of the Michigan Open in 2018, eagled the par-5 No. 15 to expand his lead ahead of day one leader Barrett Kelpin.
Kelpin made a resurgence in the rain and moved into second place with a 4-under 68, but he faltered on No. 15 with a bogey that extended Lilleboe's lead to four strokes.
Kelpin sits alone in second at 8-under but feels he could have been closer heading into the final round.
"I didn't finish the way I wanted to," said Kelpin, who is a Kalamazoo native. "That was a bad mistake I made on 15. I had really cruised along most of the day and hit shots where I wanted to and played smart. So that was disappointing."
That was his only bogey of the day, which was helped by the rain holding off for most of the round for the leading groups.
The leaders have both been in this position before with Kelpin winning the 2012 Michigan Open and Lilleboe being in the final group several times.
"It would be really nice to give myself a chance to win this again tomorrow," Kelpin said. "I like playing well in these Michigan events. They mean a lot to me being from here, so it would be great to join the club of multiple winners."
Other golfers didn't have the same luck on day three with only 17 of the 73 participants shooting under par.
Manitstique's Michael Nagy is tied for third with day two leader Willie Mack III at 5-under. Nagy shot even par on Wednesday and Mack III shot 4-over on the front nine before recovering to 2-over for the round.
Ypsilanti's Zach Sudinsky sits in fifth at 4-under and is currently the lowest scoring amateur.
There are 11 golfers under par for the tournament including Darren Husse, Sam Weatherhead and Blaze Hogan at 1-under. Francesco Ruffino is at 2-under and Domenic Mancinelli sits at 3-under.
Traverse City's Randall Hutchison and Patrick Colburn are the leading local golfers, tied for 19th at 1-over.
Suttons Bay amateur Thomas Hursey shot 2-over and fell outside of the top 20.
Lilleboe, Kelpin and Nagy will be the final grouping on Thursday, set to tee-off at noon.