Having really thrown their weight behind the event – more than 45,000 fans have attended the first three days – the North-East sporting public deserve the tasty leaderboard heading into the final round of the British Masters at Close House in Northumberland.
It will be concluded before Newcastle United and Liverpool kick-off in their English Premiership at St James’ Park at 4.30pm today and Richie Ramsay is in the mix along with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick and Ian Poulter.
This event has been a profitable one for Scottish golfers over the years. Jimmy Adams (1946), Eric Brown (1957), Bernard Gallacher (1974 and 1975), Sandy Lyle (1988), Sam Torrance (1995), Colin Montgomerie (1998) and Gary Orr (2000) all have their names on the trophy and now Ramsay has a chance to add his name to that stellar list.
The 34-year-old fancied his chances here the moment he clapped eyes on this new European Tour venue for the first time earlier in the week. Due to its hilly nature, it’s a course that demands strategy and Ramsay relishes such tests. After opening with a brace of 67s, he added a 65 for an 11-under-par total. Sitting joint-second, just one shot behind the leader, Swede Robert Karlsson, the Aberdonian feels he “definitely has a shout”.
Ramsay, the last Scot to win on the circuit in Morocco in March 2015, illuminated his third round with an eagle-2 at the ninth, where, with the tee having been moved forward 90 yards, Englishman Ashley Chesters hit the pin with his tee shot at the par-4 a few matches behind.
On a day when Swede David Lingmerth set the tone with a course-record 62 that catapulted him into contention on 10-under, McIlroy’s 64 for the same total was his best effort since firing the same score in the last round of the Travelers Championship in June. “While the conditions were perfect for going low, it is nice to shoot a score like that, especially when I’ve not had one for a while,” said the 28-year-old.
It was sparked by a “good start”, which included a chip-in birdie at the short fifth. “Today was a round I got the most of,” he admitted after revealing he’d been fired up by a curry on Friday night in Newcastle. “I scrambled well when I needed to. I also gave myself plenty of chances and made some of them.”
This is McIlroy’s penultimate event of the year, having decided to take a three-month break after next week’s Dunhill Links Championship to let the rib injury that has hampered him this year and do all sorts of testing to ensure he is fully fit again and raring to go again in 2018. “It probably has,” replied the four-time major winner to being asked if a relaxed frame of mind has contributed to this encouraging performance, one that has given him a chance to prevent this being the first season since 2008 that he’s gone winless.
“I think I’ll need something similar if I want to have a chance,” he added after putting himself in the mix in a tournament that marked his professional debut a decade ago at The Belfry. “On a soft course like this, you are likely to get eight to 10 chances in a round and I’ll probably need to make all of them. But it’s just a bonus to be here and a bonus to shoot some good numbers and give myself a chance.”
With the top 11 covered by just two shots, Karlsson, the European No 1 in 2008 but winless since 2010, carded a 67 to lead, with English trio Tyrrell Hatton (the halfway pacesetter missed a four-foot par putt at the last), Ian Poulter and Graeme Storm, as well as Irishman Paul Dunne, alongside Ramsay.
It was also another good day for Marc Warren, who maintained his recent improved run of form, which included finishing runner-up in the Portugal Masters last weekend, by making six birdies in a 65 to sit on eight-under-par. The 34-year-old got “off to a flyer” as he made three birdies in the first four holes before also producing some good work at the end of his round as he hit a 4-iron to three feet at the 201-yard 18th for a closing birdie.
“I’m really pleased with a score like that,” said Warren, who jumped to 100th in the Race to Dubai last week and is on course here to take another big step towards wrapping up his European Tour card for next season. “My ball-striking was great at the start and it carried on most of the day. I felt in control and even with the one or two bad shots you have in a round, I now feel I know what to do technically out on the course.”
Stephen Gallacher soared up the leaderboard on the back of two eagles as he joined American Wesley Bryan in showing that good golf can be produced in a lot less than four hours. Playing on his own in the first match of the day, the Scot was round in two hours and 47 minutes as he carded a 66 for a six-under total. “Not bad for an old man,” he quipped afterwards. “Two hours and 47 minutes and 66 shots, it’s alright, isn’t it?”
It was a second refreshing example in recent weeks of how top-level professional golf doesn’t necessarily have to be played at a snail’s pace. Playing in the final round of the BMW Championship on the PGA Tour, Bryan sped round in just an hour and 29 minutes as he shot a two-under-par 69.
Gallacher reckoned he would have been round even quicker if it hadn’t been for some of the steep climbs at the Northumberland venue. “Have you seen some of the hills out there?” he said. “That’s why I was taking it a bit easier than I might have done. If it was Sunningdale, I’d have been round in two hours. You’ll never be able to blame me for being slow any time on a golf course, but I like playing on my own. That’s how I like to practice. If you are first out, you can zip round.”