Too many mistakes in rounds has been the main reason why the 26-year-old from Dumfries has missed seven cuts in his first ten events on the European Tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour on the back of two wins last season.
He had just one bogey, though, in windy conditions at Karen Country Club as he posted a four-under-par 67 to sit joint-sixth, just three shots off the lead, shared by England’s Jack Singh Brar and South African Louis De Jager.
It was Johnston’s second-lowest score of the season, though his 66 in the second round of the inaugural Saudi International – he finished 30th in the Gulf – was also a four-under-par effort.
“Today was solid, with my only bogey being a missed short putt on the 15th,” said Johnston, pictured. “This golf course is one you need to be patient on. I have actually taken my driver out this week – the first time I’ve ever done that in a tournament – because it is not long, pretty tight and at altitude, so I didn’t see a need for it in the bag.”
On a day when Singh Brar finished with a flourish, with an eagle and three birdies in his last four holes to set the pace along with de Jager, Calum Hill opened his 2019 campaign with a par-71 that was matched by both Connor Syme and Bob MacIntyre.
Michele Thomson and Kelsey Macdonald both coped well in testing conditions to make encouraging starts in the Investec South African Women’s Open at Westlake in Cape Town.
As a strong wind wreaked havoc in an event that is co-sanctioned by the LET and Sunshine Ladies Tour, the Scottish pair posted one-over-par 73s to lie just two shots behind the leaders, Lina Boqvist from Sweden and Austrian Sarah Schober, in joint-sixth.
“I’m really happy with today’s round,” said Thomson after recovering from an opening bogey to make three birdies. “I fought well in the windy conditions and I am really happy to be up there with two rounds to go.
“I had a great finish last week in the New South Wales Open,” added the Aberdonian of tying for 12th behind Meghan MacLaren, her fellow double medallist in the European Team Championships at Gleneagles last year. “I’m happy to finally be playing some great golf again.”
As Macdonald also carded three birdies in her confidence-boosting effort, Carly Booth made it three Saltires in the top 15 as she maintained her recent good form with a 74.
On her pro debut on the circuit, Hannah McCook is just outside the top 20 after a battling 76, but fellow rookie Gabrielle Macdonald and recent Sunshine Ladies Tour winner Jane Turner shot 82 and 85 respectively.
Paul Lawrie has said he won’t be making any further requests for Champions Tour invitations.
The 1999 Open champion suffered a knockback for the upcoming Rapiscan Systems Classic earlier this week, having already seen a couple of other requests turned down.
It means that he has only been successful in securing a spot for the Insperity Invitational in May, though he is exempt for all five majors on the over-50s circuit.
“The Champions Tour can invite who they want, so have not broken any rules, but I will not be asking them for any more invites,” wrote Lawrie in a post on Twitter.
PGA Cup captain Cameron Clark and David Higgins, one of his vice captains for this year’s match in Texas, are through to the semi-finals in the Sunningdale Foursomes.
They beat another PGA pro pairing in Robert Coles and Matt Cort 3&2 to set up a last-four clash with Swedish duo Linn Grant and Maja Stark.
In the other semi-final of the long-running early-season event at the Surrey venue, Joe Sullivan and Louis Hirst take on Philip Ridden and A J Dixon.
A Stirling University double is on the cards in the BUCS (British Universities and College Sport) West of Scotland Trophy at wind-torn Western Gailes.
Both flying the Stirling flag, Jordan Sundborg leads the men’s event by three shots on eight-over while Penelope Brown is six shots clear at the top of the women’s leaderboard on 13-over.
Leading the chases are Kieran Quinn (West of Scotland) and Hazel McGarvie (Stirling) respectively.