The chasing pack will hope what goes up must come down as England’s James Newton stormed to a five-stroke lead going into the final round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at Co Sligo.
The Macclesfield raider recovered from an opening bogey to post 69 and take a firm grip on the championship. With one round remaining, the 24-year old is out on his own, five clear of Galway’s Ronan Mullarney who sits alone in second on minus-seven.
The Maynooth scholar returned a second successive round of 72 on moving day to trail Newton, who’s looked unflappable on the Harry Colt links so far this week.
“It was another solid round,” said Newton, who is chasing his first major honour. “They were much harder conditions today. I hit the shots that I knew I could hit.”
Level par on the front nine, Newton picked up two strokes on the way home.
“It got easier as it went on,” the Englishman insisted. “I holed a few putts when I needed to.”
Four years ago, Newton had climbed to number 50 in the world. Now, he stands on the cusp of winning a championship befitting a player of his calibre. Ronan Mullarney, his closest challenger, appreciates the difficulty of trying to reach Newton from here.
“I didn’t play great on the front nine but I don’t think it was quite as bad as it looked,” said Mullarney, who dropped three shots before the turn. “I have somewhat of a chance but it’ll have to be a good score.”
The 23-year old international carded a course record 62 on the opening day and similar heroics may be required in the final round if he’s to catch the unlikely leader.
Behind Mullarney, another Englishman, Arron Edwards Hill is third on six under. Hill, who shared second with Conor Purcell at the West of Ireland, got to nine under with an eagle at five but fell back when he doubled the sixth.
Purcell is joint fourth, alongside England’s Charlie Strickland, on five under. The links specialist from Portmarnock put together the neatest round of the day, holing a sticky six-footer to save par at the last for a 69.
“They were the toughest conditions we had all week,” said Purcell. “It was one of those days when you have loads of putts from four to eight feet – some for par, some for birdie.”
Purcell had just one bogey on his card. Consistency has been the hallmark of his play this week and the Dubliner is savouring the good vibes.
“I felt very present and calm about everything,” said Purcell. “I didn’t think about anything other than the shot I was going to have. Standing on every tee I was thinking par would be a good score. Being used to links conditions was a help.”
The low round of the day belonged to Kilkenny’s Mark Power. A chip-in eagle at the last left Power signing for 68, a prized total in turbulent conditions.
“It was really tough,” said the 18 year old Ireland international. “I was thinking, ‘If I can plug away, you never know what’s going to happen.’ I said I’d plug away and see where it left me.”
Initially, Power faced a battle just to make the final round. His 36-hole total of six over put him five shots beyond the projected cut at halfway but, with three birdies in six holes, he was on the right track.
“In the wind, you have to picture every single shot,” Power explained. “You cannot afford to be careless with any shots.”
Despite hitting driver and four iron, Power could not reach the green at number eight. There, his progress halted, a bogey pushing him back beyond the cut mark. Another bogey followed on 10 and he came to the last in need of a lifeline.
Pin high with his tee shot, Power sized up his chip with the cut mark in mind.
“I thought I needed to hole that [chip] or get up and down,” he said. “To see it go in was some bonus.”
As it turned out, Power finished safely inside the mark on three over par. All those players at plus six and better, 57 in total, progressed to the final round.
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