Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey shot a sparkling third round of six under par 66 to join Marco Ruiz of Paraguay at the summit of the Panasonic Panama Open with just one round left to play.
Hoey, the 2001 British Amateur Champion and a member of the victorious Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team of 2003, moved into contention for what would be his maiden Challenge Tour victory after a great days work that saw him play the Coronado Beach and Golf Resort in six under par.
Hoey and Ruiz are being closely followed by the Argentine trio of Rafael Gomez, Cesar Monasterio and Andres Romeo who are two shots back, with the English pair of Richard McEvoy and Benn Barham respectively sixth and seventh on six and five under par.
It did not seem like it was going to be Hoey’s day after he bogeyed the first hole, but the Northern Irishman responded to his early set back magnificently and came roaring back with eight birdies and just one more dropped shot.
The 26 year old started the Panasonic Panama Open with a two over par 74, but has battled his way back into contention with superb second and third rounds of 67-66.
He said: “I hit a really good four iron to four feet at the second and made that to get me started. I did not want to be over par walking off that green. I lipped out for eagle at the 5th but with that second birdie really got me going. I was driving the ball very well, hitting mostly wedges for my second shots and I putted well.”
Hoey missed his full European Tour Card by a single shot at The 2004 European Tour Qualifying School Finals, and says that, despite the initial disappointment since then he has been working hard on his putting with his coach: “I started putting well in the last four rounds of the School three weeks ago, putted good in Mexico last week.
“Here I began holing a few putts and the rest of my game has come together as well. I’ve also had some good breaks and holed some thirty-footers. If that continues and my driving stays straight I have a good chance to win.”
Ruiz, meanwhile, is confident that he can use the familiar Latin American conditions to his advantage during the last round. The Paraguayan carded a third round 69 to tie Hoey at the top of the leaderboard and seems confident of going all the way.
“It was a very poor start today, my long game not working so well, but after that I played really well,” Ruiz said. “I’m very comfortable with the conditions, playing here is very much like being at home in Paraguay, the sun, the wind, the type of greens.”
The three second-placed Argentines all had opportunities to lead, although Challenge Tour Member Monasterio was satisfied with the 67 that vaulted him into a tie for third place.
“The important thing is to be going into Sunday in the mix,” said Monasterio. “There are a lot of experienced players in with a chance and it promises to be fun and exciting. It’s good to be part of it.”
McEvoy, meanwhile was annoyed to finish with two bogeys in his closing three holes for a third round 71. “Very disappointed, obviously,” said the Englishman. “I played pretty solid but made three three-putts from nowhere, and simply threw shots away. The pins were tricky and horrible if you got on the wrong side of them and I let that get to me a bit.”