Sixteen players are covered by just three shots at the top of the leaderboard in the Betfred British Masters and they include Scottish duo Bob MacIntyre and Calum Hill.
Part of a three-way tie for the top spot at the halfway stage at The Belfry, they now sit one behind Englishman Eddie Pepperell, who is bidding to land this title for the second time in four years, in a logjam for second place.
It wasn’t a day when either MacIntyre or Hill fired on all cylinders, but, to their credit, they hung in there in overcast conditions at the Ryder Cup venue, keeping alive their hopes of becoming the first Scot since Gary Orr in 2000 to claim this prize.
“That’s the worst it could have been, really,” said MacIntyre, the highest-ranked player in the field, of his two-under 70, which moved him to nine-under. “Today that could have been another 66, easily.”
The 2019 European Tour Rookie of the Year had putted beautifully in signing for that score in the second round, but golf rarely throws up the same thing two days running.
“The putter was cold today, but you get days like that,” admitted MacIntyre. “Yesterday it was on fire. Hopefully tomorrow it turns up.”
The 24-year-old was unable to convert a good birdie chance at the last that would have earned him a spot in the final group alongside Pepperell, who had rolled in one from close to 40 feet there about 20 minutes earlier to break out of the pack on nine-under.
Earlier, MacIntyre had missed from around two feet for a birdie at the par-5 15th and also dropped a shot at the iconic 10th, where, with the tee having been moved up, he was suckered into going for the green and paid the price
“I’m the boss at the end of the day on it,” he said of that decision. “Mike (Thomson, his caddie) was trying to hold me back and I am trying to persuade him, saying ‘I need to go for it’.
“It was 230 yards to the front and I’ve said it all week that, unless it’s a back-left pin, I’m laying it up and today I just got greedy. You try not to give away shots and I felt like I gave away one there.”
As for what happened a few holes later when a third birdie of the day looked to have been secured by a lovely chip, you could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.
“I was really annoyed there, but, at the same time, it’s just one of those things,” he said. “I hit so many good putts out there that didn’t go in, from short range, long range - it was just one of those days. Other days the ball breaks into the hole and you shoot 66 or better.
“I play golf on the edge and these things happen. The tenth hole got away from me and the par-5 got away from me.
“But, other than that, two-under-par is okay and, if someone had said you would be one back going into tomorrow at the start of the week, I would have taken it.”
MacIntyre is bidding to back up his breakthrough win in the Cyprus Showdown last November, having also been in the hunt at this stage in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year before finishing third behind Paul Casey.
“If I shoot the lowest score tomorrow, then I’m going to be in with a chance,” he predicted. “The golf course suits me perfectly. There are only a couple of holes that don’t suit my eye.
“I feel so comfortable on the golf course and the greens as well. I just didn’t hole much today but tomorrow is hopefully a different story.
“I am striking my irons as good as I ever have. I know where my misses are and where I can and can’t go at things and I feel I am fully comfortable with my irons now.”
Hill, who is chasing a maiden title triumph on the main tour after tasting victory three times on the Challenge Tour, transformed his round with a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th, having also picked up a shot at the tenth.
“It was a good day in the end,” said the 26-year-old Perthshire-based player, who had looked a bit out of sorts on the front nine before finding something with his driver in particular after the turn.
“It wasn’t quite going my way, but I was patient enough and gritty enough and put in a decent score by the end of the day.
“I think it’s something you learn. The score’s okay in itself, I wasn’t disappointed yesterday with a 70, so I shouldn’t be today. Sometimes you flush it all the way round for a 70, sometimes you do what I did today. It adds up in the end and that’s what matters.”
That late burst was sparked by the “best pitch shot I’ve hit fo a long time” to around three feet at the 15th before rolling in a 12-footer at the next after a “bit of a weird wedge shot” and then playing the 17th the best he has so far this week in making a two-putt birdie there.
“The more I put myself here, the more chances I’ll have to win,” said Hill of his hopes heading into the final day, having finished in the top five in the Saudi International and the Kenya Savannah Classic this year. “It’s about patience on my part and playing as well as I can. One back is a good place to be.”
On a day when Richie Ramsay, the third Scot to make the cut, had to settle for a 72 to remain on three-under, Pepperell stepped up his bid to repeat a 2018 triumph at Walton Heath with a 68.
“There is a fair bit riding on it for me tomorrow because I want to win it,” said 30-year-old Pepperell, who was 32nd in the world rankings less than two years ago but has slipped outside the top 200.
“Not just because you want to win but it will also allow me some more time off in the coming weeks to then prepare for the big run in the summer.”