The Old Course, eh? Bathed in autumn sunshine – as it was for the third round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – it really is a thing of a beauty. Even under a leaden sky earlier in the week, Jon Rahm had been spellbound playing it for the first time in a practice round for the £4 million pro am.
But here’s the thing, as the Spaniard will now testify, no doubt, after failing to break par when he then tackled it competitively, it normally takes time to crack the Old Course code. Indeed, just ask Bob MacIntyre. He’d played her a few times as an amateur, but reckoned he’d only broken par once. “It’s a golf course I have never ever got the hang of,” admitted the 23-year-old.
He has now, though. On a day when he made an eagle and six birdies, MacIntyre carded a six-under-par 66, an effort that lifted him into the top 20 heading into the final circuit on the same course. He’s got seven shots to make up on the joint-leaders, Frenchman Victor Perez and Englishman Matthew Southgate, but more of the same and you never know.
“In the years I played the St Andrews Links Trophy, I only ever shot under par once, in 2016, I think,” he added, having survived the 54-hole cut on his debut in this event as he progressed along with compatriots Calum Hill, Richie Ramsay, Russell Knox, Scott Jamieson and Grant Forrest. “I think today might have been the turning point and now I’ll try and keep riding the wave.”
His biggest problem with this particular course in the past had been struggling to read the giant greens. A decision to cough up for a green book for this visit, though, has been money well spent. “I’ve got a green book this week,” said the left-hander, who sits 13th in the Race to Dubai in his rookie season on the European Tour.
“I never used to be able to putt on these greens. I never used to be able to read them properly and today I holed a lot of great putts which was key. The green book helped me hugely, confirming what I’m seeing.”
Perez, who lives in Dundee with his dental student girlfriend, birdied five holes in a row at Kingsbarns on his way to an eight-under-par 64 to sit on 12-under alongside Southgate. “I feel like it’s more just being at home and comfortable and all the little things that come with it,” said the 27-year-old, who, like Southgate, is seeking a maiden win on the main circuit, of being the “local” man in the field this week. “You drive your own car and are sleeping in your own bed, a huge thing when you travel around and being in hotels all the time.”
Having tied for sixth in an Open Championship – at Troon in 2016 – Southgate clearly loves links golf and the Carnoustie member -–how about that for a coincidence given the other joint-leader’s local connection? – set up a winning opportunity by the seaside by signing for eight birdies alongside former R&A secretary Peter Dawson, his amateur partner, in a 65 at St Andrews.
“Someone is going to post a good number, so it’s going to take a good score to get the win,” said Southend-on-Sea man Southgate, who turns 31 next week. “I’m so passionate about winning tournaments and being here at the home of golf, tomorrow is going to be a difficult one to just keep myself in check and keep producing what I have done the first three days.”
Another Englishman, Paul Waring, sits third on 18-under, a shot ahead of world No 14 Tony Finau while others lurking ominously include two-time winner Tyrrell Hatton, defending champion Lucas Bjerregaard and former world No 1 Luke Donald, who holed out from 53 yards for a closing eagle-2 at St Andrews in a 64.
Hill, who is making his debut in the event, leads the home challenge on 15-under, one ahead of Knox and Ramsay. “It will be really nice playing the Old Course with a chance and all I can hope for is to have a shot at the title coming down the last few holes,” said Challenge Tour Order of Merit leader Hill.
Ten off the lead, world No 2 Rory McIlroy, pictured, is almost certainly out of the reckoning in the individual event, but he’s right in the mix with his dad, Gerry, in the team battle. “I am so excited for tomorrow as it is going to be great for dad [who is playing in the event as a 60th birthday present] and I to go out and have a real chance of winning,” said McIlroy.