Eddie Pepperell leads British Masters but tournament’s future in doubt

England's Eddie Pepperell leads the British Master. Picture: Steven Paston/PA Wire
England's Eddie Pepperell leads the British Master. Picture: Steven Paston/PA Wire
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Eddie Pepperell will take a three-shot lead into the final day of the British Masters as he seeks the second European Tour title of his career – and with it a likely Masters appearance next April.

Pepperell carded a third round of 71 at Walton Heath to finish nine under par, with fellow Englishman Jordan Smith, Sweden’s Alexander Bjork, American Julian Suri and France’s Julien Guerrier all six under.

A victory would take Pepperell into the world’s top 35 and almost certainly secure a Masters debut in 2019. The top 50 at the end of the year are guaranteed a place in the first major of the year at Augusta National in April.

The 27-year-old from Oxford began the day with a three-shot lead and was four clear when he holed from 14 feet for an eagle on the par-five 11th, with playing partners Smith and Matt Wallace remarkably also doing likewise.

Smith also birdied the 12th after Pepperell three-putted and another birdie on the 15th took Smith within two shots of the lead, only for him to immediately drop a shot on the next.

Pepperell was ranked outside the world’s top 500 as recently as May last year, but won his maiden European Tour title in Qatar in February and followed a runners-up finish in the Scottish Open with a tie for sixth in the Open seven days later, carding a closing 67 at Carnoustie despite being hungover.

“I remember feeling really comfortable with the lead in Qatar and I felt comfortable out there today,” Pepperell said. “I didn’t see any shots that frightened me and it’s about time I kicked on and won another event.”

Ryder Cup hero Tommy Fleetwood is seven shots off the pace after rebounding from a 77 on Friday with a 70, while team-mate and tournament host Justin Rose is another stroke adrift following a 69.

A top-two finish would see Rose, below, reach the top of the world rankings for the second time this season, the 38-year-old having spent two weeks as No.1 in September.

Scotland’s David Drysdale slipped down the leaderboard after a round of 60 and is now six over, 15 shots off the lead alongside compatriot Stephen Gallacher. The leading Scot is Scott Jamieson who is tied for 34th, one over, after a round of 72. Marc Warren (71) and Richie Ramsay (72) are a shot further behind.

Rose, meanwhile, believes the European Tour could benefit from a “quality over quantity” approach as it struggles to find a title sponsor for the British Masters. The £3 million event is supported by Sky Sports, but the four-year deal with the broadcaster comes to an end this year and no title sponsor has been found for 2019 for a tournament only returned to the European Tour schedule in 2015 after a six-year absence.

“It would be a shame,” said Rose, whose own win at Woburn was the only professional victory his father Ken got to witness before his death. “It’s one that’s close to my heart having won it in 2002 with my dad around. Dare I say there are so many events on the European Tour that maybe shouldn’t be there, these are the ones that should be there.”