The golfing gods may yet smile on Anton Karlsson. As Richie Ramsay was slipping into the £145,000 BMW M760Li xDrive he won for a hole-in-one during the BMW International Open in Germany on Thursday, the 22-year-old Swede had to settle for a bottle of bubbly for his ace around the same time in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore.
“I guess I picked the wrong week for a hole-in-one as at least half the tournaments this season have had good prizes for one, but I was still happy to make one,” admitted Karlsson. The Challenge Tour rookie will be even happier if he leaves the Highlands today with a cheque for just over £33,000 in his back pocket. After a 62 – the nine-under-par effort earned him a share of the course record with Brooks Koepka, Ben An and Alan Dunbar but not James Heath due to preferred lies being in operation when he shot the same score on Friday – Karlsson heads into the final circuit as a title contender.
Having made his move by storming to the turn in five-under 29 before coaxing a 5-wood to six feet for an eagle-3 at the 542-yard 13th, Karlsson is sitting on 16-under, two off the lead, held by Englishman James Heath (65), with halfway pacesetter Chris Selfridge from Northern Ireland sandwiched between the pair after a 67.
“It’s been quite a week so far,” admitted Karlsson in something of an understatement. “I like the course – one of the best I’ve played. It suits my eye.” After that eagle, his sights were set on earning membership of an exclusive club in the Royal & Ancient game. “I was thinking about 59 after 13,” he added.
“I thought it was probably my best chance so far. I tried to keep it going but I didn’t hit it that close after that, though I had a pretty good chance at 17 for eagle as well.”
That ace, of course, also constituted an eagle. Karlsson reckoned it had been just reward after coming close twice to achieving the feat earlier in his opening circuit in the shadow of the Cairngorms. It is in the past, though. It’s what happens today that will determine whether or not he’ll remember his first visit here.
“Competitively that’s the lowest round I’ve had,” said Karlsson, whose best effort in his four years in the paid ranks has been a second-placed finish on the third tier Nordic League. “I’m fancying my chances and if I keep playing the golf I am I’ll be up there.”
Bidding to bridge a 10-year gap – his breakthrough Challenge Tour victory came in Denmark a decade ago – Heath trailed playing partner Selfridge, who holed his second shot from 60 yards for an eagle-2 at the ninth, by four shots standing on the 12th tee.
It’s now advantage the 33-year-old Englishman, though, after he picked up four birdies over the closing stretch whereas Selfridge was level par for those holes, having finished with his second bogey of the round.
“I’m in a good position after managing to pinch a one-shot lead,” admitted Heath, a former Nick Faldo protege. “Chris started off like a train, but I played some good stuff over the last six holes. I was particularly pleased to hit one stiff at the 14th after a sloppy three-putt at the 13th due to losing my focus. I’ll stick to my guns tomorrow and hope to keep hitting good shots.”
Selfridge, a 24-year-old who joined the paid ranks on the back of a stellar college career, is hopeful he can get his nose back in front when it matters. “I’m looking forward to it – it is going to be exciting,” he said.
This will not go down as one to remember from a home perspective. Out of a 28-strong Scottish starting contingent, only two survived the cut. George Murray, the 2010 winner, sits joint 34th on six-under after a 70. Paul McKechnie signed for one more for five-under and a share of 42nd.