Rookie pro John Murphy is staring at a real chance of victory heading to the final round of the 20th anniversary Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Murphy, 23, didn’t drop a shot in an impressive five-under par 67 on the famed Old Course at St. Andrews and now heads to the last day brilliantly lying in a four-way share of second place at 11-under par.
Masters champion Danny Willett (66) leads the way by three shots at 14-under par with double Dunhill winning Tyrrell Hatton (71), Richard Bland (64) and Murphy’s fellow Irishman Shane Lowry (67), who missed a short birdie putt on 18, along with Murphy only three back.
The flame-haired Kinsale golfer, who turned pro after representing GB&I in last May’s Walker Cup, was off the 10th tee and immediately picked-up a birdie ‘3’ to move to seven-under par following rounds of 69 at both Carnoustie and Kingsbarns Links.
Murphy just missed hitting overnight tournament leader, Tyrrell Hatton in playing the par-5 14th with the Englishman on the adjoining fifth hole, before the Irishman birdied the short par-4 18th he was playing as his ninth.
He jumped to eight-under in walking off with a birdie at the downwind first hole before Murphy birdied the 14th hole of his round and that being the par-5 fifth ahead of a birdie into the wind on the par-3 eighth hole and his 17th.
“That was my first bogey-free round of 2021, so I’m delighted as it was a good time to do it”, he said.
“I played nicely and just played steady all day. I had a lot of looks out there and just so happy with where my game is at.
“Though it was a bit strange playing the course the other way around, so to get through the tougher nine in two-under was great.
“I was pretty lucky coming down 14 as I nearly took out Tyrrell Hatton on the opposite fairway though we loudly called ‘Fore’ so he was grand about it”.
Murphy returned to the Home of Golf for the first time since capturing the 2018 St. Andrews Links Trophy and revealed after his victory that the only prior time he had played the Old Course was on his ‘Play Station’.
And in capturing the Links Trophy when he holed a 30-footer for birdie at the first extra hole, Murphy did so without his caddy who had to rush-off to Stranraer for fear of missing his ferry back to Ireland.
Since turning pro Murphy has played just two main Tour events and missed the cut in both, so it means he does not appear on the 2021 Race to Dubai rankings.
A win would earn Murphy around €700,000 along with all the trimmings in being a Tour winner while a third-place result should see him pocket around €250,000.
A check of the 2021 Race to Dubai standings sees Aussie Scott Hend holding down 115th place, and the cut-off mark to retain his Tour card, with season earnings of €179,272 so you could see what now awaits Murphy.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow as there are good nerves and there are bad nerves and the good nerves are when you are in contention and I feel good going into the last day”, he said.
“It is a unique situation for me as I haven’t played this environment before in my career when I am playing in the same event with some of the best players in the world and it’s nice to be so high-up the leaderboard”.
And helping Murphy this week is fellow Irishman Shane Lowry who made his debut in the Dunhill Links a dozen years ago but missed the third round cut at the time.
“There’s a bit of fatigue, all right,” said Lowry. “Obviously, it’s a bit of calm now from last week (at the Ryder Cup) to this week, but it’s still a big tournament. I’m a competitive person. When I come to play, I want to do well. So, I’m out there giving it my all.
“Managed to play some nice golf over the last three days, I’m in a nice position now going into tomorrow, and I look forward to it.
“Anybody that’s involved in golf or into golf and has been here knows that this place is probably one of the most special places in the world, if not the most special place. So, to be able to lift the trophy on that green will be incredible.”
Lowry is tied with Murphy on 11-under par heading to the final day and just like players did for him when he was starting out, he has been looking out for Murphy this week.
“It was great to bump into Shane Lowry in the Jigger Inn earlier in the week and he was really helpful and encouraging”, commented Murphy.
“All the Irish lads have been great with me this week including Paul Dunne and Cormac Sharvin and that’s what I find is great being out here on either the European or Challenge Tour as the camaraderie is great.
“As much as you are out here competing against each other, it’s nice to know they have your best interests at heart”.
Murphy is also benefiting with Dumbarnie Links caddy Stephen Neilson.
“I had Shane O’Connell, one of my best friends from back home on the bag as he’s been with me all season on the Challenge Tour but I decided to go with Stephen this week as he knows the three courses here so well”, said Murphy.
“So, now I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It will be a nervy one but I am looking forward to it. I’m not too worried about the conditions as it will be the same for everyone, so you just deal with it as it comes”.
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