A closing birdie helped Brian McElhinney into a share of the lead alongside Damien McGrane ahead of Saturday’s final round at the 112th Irish PGA Championship in Carne.
McGrane, who teed off in the opening group, held the clubhouse lead for most of the afternoon and it looked as if he wouldn’t be caught as one by one, players saw their hopes blow away in the wind.
But McElhinney was dogged and the former Amateur champion displayed all his links expertise to grind out a two-under 70 to join McGrane on five-under, two ahead of close friend Michael McGeady.
“Yeah it was nice to finish with a birdie on the last, it was a good putt,” smiled the former Masters participant. “I had a couple of bogeys coming in there so was nice to finish off with a birdie.
“It could have been better, it was a bit scrappy today. I just didn’t strike the ball as well and you do get penalised with the wind if you’re not striking it as well as you need to be but overall I was happy to get it round under par.”
The Donegal native recovered from a bogey on the second with a hat trick of birdies before a bogey on the 7th and a birdie on the 9th closed out a front nine of 35.
The back nine wasn’t quite as plain sailing for the North West professional who cancelled out dropped shots on 13 and 17 with birdies on 12 and 18 to give himself a great chance of winning a maiden Irish PGA Championship.
“More of the same it’s great to be in with a chance going into tomorrow and if I can strike the ball better tomorrow and putt like I have been I shouldn’t be too far away.
“It will be a nice grouping I know Michael quite well played a lot of golf with him over the years so it will be nice to be together in the last round.”
The second round in Belmullet was a brutal test of patience and will with the golf course playing almost three shots harder than day one with a scoring average of 79.35.
“I felt it was just as tough or a bit tougher than yesterday at times the wind was different so it made you think more and you had to do things differently.
“Just try keep it in play off the tee, try and get it on the green, try hit it close a few times and make a few putts and fortunately I did that for most of the round,” explained McElhinney.
Hat trick hunting McGrane had opened a two-shot gap at the summit after a superb three-under 69 in the worst of the conditions that began with a torrential shower of rain and was followed by some extremely high winds that threatened to cause golf balls to oscillate on greens.
The Kells native, who represents Carlow Golf Club, was pleased with how he navigated his way around the golf course but refused to entertain any thoughts of winning.
“I did play well today. I was steady from start to finish. I find the course so difficult that you really have to stay in the moment and play one shot at a time and that’s what I have been doing. My short game has been adequate but the course is really tough and you can’t lose your concentration for a moment or it could all go horribly wrong so I’m in a good position, very happy with the way I played and it’s a nice place to be.
“Still top five oh yeah! Tomorrow is going to be a long day, another breezy day and whoever plays the best golf will win, so we will have to wait and see who the lucky man is.”
While the conditions have been extremely challenging they have produced a mouth-watering final group of McGrane, McElhinney and McGeady who is looking to win his second PGA title, nine years after his first.
A closing eagle turned a good round into a great one as a three-under 69 helped him into third place.
“Yeah very happy, it was a tricky day,” said the Derry man. “I was just talking to the starter saying I would have been happy with anything around level-par for the day so it was nice to go a few better than that.
“It’s always nice to be calling yourself an Irish champion so I think everybody wants to come here and win this, it’s a big one and one we all try and get our game in good shape for.”
At the end of days play there were only five players under par with Colm Moriarty and Neil O’Briain completing the red figured contingent.
Four-time winner this season Richard Kilpatrick of Banbridge and three-time Irish PGA champion Simon Thornton of Tulfarris are both lurking in the long grass at one-over alongside Owen O’Loughlin and Richard Weldon in a share of 6th place.