British Masters: Bogey-free Renato Paratore on course to emulate Jesper Parnevik’s 1995 feat

Italian leads the field in Northumberland

Renato Paratore of Italy celebrates his putt at the 18th green. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Renato Paratore of Italy celebrates his putt at the 18th green. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Renato Paratore, a talented and likeable young Italian, has covered 54 holes without dropping a shot at the hilly and testing Close House, near Newcastle, to lead the Betfred British Masters. If he can keep the run going in the final circuit, the 23-year-old will become the first player since Jesper Parnevik achieved the feat when winning the 1995 Scandinavian Masters to complete an event bogey-free on the European Tour.

That would be a tremendous achievement, but it still might not earn him a second triumph on the circuit after making the breakthrough in the 2017 Nordea Masters in Sweden. Despite carding a second successive 66 for a 16-under-par total, Paratore leads by one from South African Justin Harding, with Norwegian Rasmus Hojgaard, one of the circuit’s rising stars, lurking ominously on 14 under par.

A posse of English players are also in the mix, including 23-year-old Florida-based Sam Horsfield, who carded three eagles as he stormed up the leaderboard with a course record-equalling 10-under-par 61 in ideal scoring conditions at the Northumberland venue.

Paratore, one of the quickest players in golf who, unusually in the professional game, also keeps his glove on when putting, retained his place at the top of the leaderboard with birdies at the second, sixth, seventh, 12th and, to get his nose back in front, 18th.

“I played really solid these three days, especially the short game which has helped me save some shots when I needed them, so I’m happy with that and I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow,” said the man from Rome, where the Ryder Cup will now be played in 2023 instead of next year after the cancellation of this year’s scheduled match at Whistling Straits due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“Fortunately, I live in Dubai with my friend, Guido Migliozzi, who is also on the European Tour, and we played a lot of competitive rounds with each other after lockdown. I think this helped me to stay 
competitive.” Harding, who last year tied for 12th in the other Masters – the one held at Augusta National – carded an eagle and four birdies in a 66, which left the 34-year-old in a promising position to add to his Qatar Masters victory last season.

“I had a little hiccup on the second, which was naughty, and, if a couple of putts could have dropped on the back nine, it could have been a good one,” said Harding. “But, at the end of the day, it was all about putting yourself in position for tomorrow and I feel like I’ve done that.”

Hojgaard, a 19-year-old who beat Paratore in a play-off to win the Mauritius Open in only his second start on the top tour in December, had carded six birdies before dropping his only shot of the day at the last. “I think I can take a few things from my last win,” said Hojgaard, whose identical twin, Nicolai, missed the cut by a shot. “The last time I stayed patient and stayed calm. I didn’t rush anything and didn’t try to force anything, so that will be my plan tomorrow if I’m in contention going down the stretch.”

In his biggest test by far, Whitnell finished birdie-birdie to stay in the hunt, just ahead of three of his compatriots, Horsfield, Ashley Chesters and Robert Rock, as they bid to win an event being hosted by one of English golf’s favourite sons, Lee Westwood.

Horsfield, who gave up a spot in the Great Britain & Ireland team for the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham, only made the halfway cut with a shot to spare but took full advantage of ideal conditions for the morning starters.

The first of his eye-catching eagles came from 35 feet at the seventh, the second from two feet at the tenth following a majestic 5-wood and last one from 50 feet at the 17th, with five birdies mixed in as well.

The sensational effort moved Horsfield, who had shot rounds of 58 and 59 in bounce games in Florida during lockdown, to 12-under-par. “I’ve never (carded three eagles) in a tournament,” he said afterwards. “I felt like the first two days I was maybe pushing a bit too hard as I haven’t played a tournament in four months.

“When you’re playing at home it really doesn’t matter. I spoke to a few friends last night, FaceTimed a few people, and they said ‘dude just go out there and play like you were playing at home, it’s literally the same’. So that’s what I tried to do today and I think it worked.”

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