Richard Mansell holds four-shot lead in Dunhill Links as he seeks maiden win
But a two-shot cushion after 36 holes in the $5 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship has been doubled heading into the final round after the man from Carnock in Staffordshire seemed to revel in his new front-running status.
A day after taming the Old Course at St Andrews in horrific weather conditions, Mansell, minus lots of layers due to “it feeling like summer”, produced another polished performance as he carded a five-under-par 67 at Carnoustie, where he signed off with a sixth birdie of the round.
Having moved to 15-under, he holds a comfortable cushion over compatriot Daniel Gavins, as well as Swede Alex Noren and New Zealander Ryan Fox, with Frenchman Antoine Rozner and Dane Niklas Norgaard Moller both one further back.
Despite a 66 at St Andrews, world No 2 Rory McIlroy is eight off the pace along with two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington, American Billy Horshcel and also Scottish duo Bob MacIntyre and Connor Syme, but their title chances are likely to hinge on the leader.
Mansell’s biggest success to date came on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour in 2019, so there’s a ton of pressure on his shoulders, but, having finished third in both the Porsche European Open and Omega European Masters this season, the effort thus far from the world No 226 on Scottish soil is not totally unexpected.
“Yeah, I've been in contention a lot this year and had chances on Sundays,” said the leader in the battle for a top prize worth $763,000. “Every time, they say in golf, that you don't win, you learn. That's what I feel like I've done really well this year.
“Tomorrow there's a lot of golf. It's links golf, anything can happen. It's St Andrews. People can shoot 60. I'm just really focused on myself right now. I'm going to try and shoot a good score tomorrow and see where it puts me.
“Just not worry about anyone else. Golf is a really hard game. I've missed two cuts the last couple of weeks. My clubs didn't show up in France. I flew to Italy myself to get my clubs after. But I've been playing a lot of good stuff recently and hopefully we can have one more good round tomorrow.”
McIlroy, who’d went backwards on Friday after struggling to a 75 at Kingsbarns in what was effectively a weather war, started his day by spinning his approach at the first back into the burn. Seven birdies thereafter, including three on the spin around the turn, was more like it, though, from the DP World Tour Rankings leader.
“Played some nice golf,” said McIlroy, who is still in the hunt for the team title, which he’d freely admitted was the top target this week, with his dad Gerry and could be one of the players ready to pounce if Mansell falters on the final day.
”The way this golf course is right now, I find it hard to see how someone doesn't go out there and shoot a couple under,” he said of the Old Course having been softened by Friday’s deluge. It's playing as easy as it can be right now, and even today with a 20-25-mile-an-hour wind.
“I'm not sure what the forecast is like tomorrow, but, if I can go out and shoot eight-under and get to the number that Richard's on right now, 15, at least you'd go out and you'd have to make him shoot under par. That would be a decent target.”
MacIntyre, who started the day in fifth spot, was three-under for the day after 13 holes at St Andrews before dropping shots at the 16th and 17th then being unable to birdie the driveable par-4 18th.
“Just another great day on the Old Course,” said the Oban man with tongue firmly in cheek. “I can’t play that golf course if my life depended on it. I’m absolutely useless on the back nine - it’s as simple as that.”
Explaining why, the recent Italian Open winner added: “Wind off the right, out of bounds down the right. With modern golf clubs, you can’t draw it enough to hold the wind. It’s just a golf course that I can’t play.
“I knew coming in that 15, 16, 17 are just killer holes for me. I can’t turn it into the wind. It’s the same old story for me round the Old Course – I just can’t score well. It’s a golf course that I feel I can’t play. I’m not going to compete round here. Plain and simple, it just doesn’t suit me.”
Despite that, the 26-year-old made the cut here in the 150th Open and is now sitting just outside the top 10 heading into the final round in this assignment. “I’ll give it my best shot,” said MacIntyre. “But, when it comes to crunch time, it’s the finishing nine holes. It’s alright just now because the rough’s not there, but the Open was torture. I’ve just got to hope that there’s an east wind tomorrow.”
Local lad Syme shot up the leaderboard on the back of a seven-under 65 at Kingsbarns. “It was a brilliant day,” he declared. “I actually played well yesterday, even though the conditions were awful. The turnaround in score was all about the putting and being more positive on the greens really helped.”
Grant Forrest sits on five-under alongside US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and his brother Alex, while 2004 winner Stephen Gallacher and David Law made it through on three-under, with Richie Ramsay also making the cut on one-under.
South African professional Christiaan Burke and Canadian businessman Bruce Mitchell lead the team event by two shots on 30-under.