The final day of the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final is all set for a battle of the Brits, with Welshman Rhys Davies and Scotland’s Andrew McArthur occupying the top two places on the leaderboard.
After another day of high winds which made for equally high scoring at San Domenico Golf in Puglia, Italy, just five players in the 45-man field remained under par.
Davies leads on four under par after a round of 69, despite starting with a double bogey six on the first hole. The same fate befell McArthur, who staged a late rally to sign for a round of 70 which moved the Scot to three under par.
A round of 75 saw overnight leader Andrew Tampion of Australia drop back to third place on two under par, one stroke ahead of Frenchman Alexandre Kaleka and Scotland’s Peter Whiteford, who enjoyed contrasting fortunes with respective rounds of 73 and 69.
Of the quintet it is perhaps Davies who will sleep the soundest tonight, having long since secured his European Tour card courtesy of victories in Wales and Spain earlier in the season.
In contrast, 29th placed Kaleka, 21st placed McArthur and 39th placed Tampion will all be desperately hoping to claim enough of the €300,000 prize fund to secure their spots in the top 20 of the Rankings, whilst Whiteford will be seeking to consolidate his place in the top 15.
Davies said: “Perhaps I’m under less pressure to perform than some of the other guys around me, but there’s always a little bit of pressure if you’re playing in the last group on the final day of any event, let alone the Grand Final. So I’m sure I’ll be just as focused on winning as they are. It’s great to win any event, but to win the Grand Final would be that little bit extra special. There’s a lot of guys up there in contention, and I’m sure the course and the weather will play a part again. So I’ll have to stay patient, but if I manage to do that I’m sure I’ll have a great chance.
“My game’s coming together and seems to be getting stronger all the time, which is great. I’m always trying to improve my game, and I’ll need to if I’m going to do well on The European Tour next season. But I’m not thinking about that just yet – there’s one round of the Challenge Tour season left, and my aim is to try to go as low as I possibly can and hopefully end the year with another win.”
McArthur’s mission is to try to erase the pain of previous seasons, having finished 22nd in the Rankings in both 2007 and 2008.
The Scot, who racked up four birdies in his last six holes, said: “It was a bit of a slog for the first 12 holes. I’d created a few birdie chances, but nothing seemed to drop. Then I missed a couple of greens with some calamitous mistakes, and all of a sudden I was three over for the round. But after my birdie at the 13th I had a quick look at the leaderboard, and I knew I was still in with a fighting chance as long as I kept it steady – and that’s exactly what I did.
“There’s obviously a lot on the line on the final day, for me and a lot of the other guys. I’m going to be trying to win to get into the top ten of the Rankings, whilst second or third would probably get me into the top 15, and if I play terribly I’ve got no chance of making it into the top 20. Then I’d have to go to the Qualifying School Final and try to earn my card that way but that’s probably even more pressurized, so there’s a lot riding on the final round. I’m sure I’ll be excited and nervous in equal measures, but hopefully all the practice I’ve been putting in will pay off and my game will hold together.
“I don’t know if it’s a help or hindrance, having come so close in previous years. I’m just going to try to keep it simple – it’s all about hitting fairways and greens, and then hopefully holing a few putts. I’ll know not to panic if I do drop a few shots, because I’ve been over par in all three rounds but have managed to get it back. A fast start would be great, but if my game doesn’t click into gear straight away, it’s not the end of the world.”
A top five finish would in all probability hand McArthur a European Tour card for the first time, potentially at the expense of the man directly above him in the Rankings Peter Gustafsson of Sweden, who started the day in a tie for third but fell seven places after his round of 75.
England’s James Morrison, who currently occupies 17th place in the Rankings, is also in danger of slipping out of the top 20 after he dropped back to tied 25th with a round of 74. Sion E Bebb, one place above Morrison in the Rankings, is another who will be staring nervously over his shoulder, having slipped back to 22nd place after a round of 78 which included a triple bogey seven at the 14th.
Home hero and Challenge Tour Number One Edoardo Molinari leapt back in contention with a round of 69 to take a share of seventh place on one over par. Sweden’s Fredrik Andersson Hed, currently 32nd in the Rankings, shot the lowest round of the day – a 68 which included five birdies – to climb to sixth place on level par, raising the seemingly remote prospect of a late surge into the top 20.
Andersson Hed has worked out what he would need to secure a return to The European Tour – “tied second would be good enough, but third probably wouldn’t,” he said – but Tampion is keeping his calculator locked away in the draw.
However, the man from Melbourne, whose only birdie of the day came at the 13th, did acknowledge that he would need to improve all facets of his game on the final day if his quest to have a second crack at The European Tour is to be successful.
He said: “I didn’t play well at all today, although I got off to a great start with a par at the first, which almost feels like a birdie. But from then it started to go downhill fast, and I found myself four over after nine holes. The wind was coming from different directions and a couple of the tee shots didn’t suit me at all, so all in all it wasn’t a great day. But I scrambled it round on the back nine and I’m still only two shots off the lead, so there’s still everything to play for. I could’ve easily shot myself out of the tournament but I managed to limit the damage, so I can take some heart form that. Hopefully I’ve got my bad one out of the way.
“Obviously it would’ve been great to go into the final round leading, but two shots off isn’t a bad place to be by any means. I played really well on the first two days, and if I can reproduce that sort of form, I should have a decent chance. I haven’t worked out what I might need – hopefully I can win and not have to worry about anything else.”
Whiteford would only need to hold his position in order to maintain his standing in the Rankings, but a top three finish could send the Scot into the rarefied heights of the top ten.
He said: “The course is set up tremendously for a final. You get rewarded for good golf and punished for bad golf, which is exactly how it should be at such an important event like this. I played poorly on the second day, so I’m delighted to have responded with a score like that today. Nobody’s going to be running away with the tournament on this course and with this wind, so being one or two off the lead is nothing around here. It’s all set up for a great final day.”
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