Amateur sensation Tommy Fleetwood will have to overturn a four shot lead held by the in-form Dane Thorbjørn Olesen if he is to capture his maiden Challenge Tour title at the inaugural English Challenge.
The supremely talented teenager’s round of 68 saw him move to 13 under par, but he is trailing in Olesen’s wake after the Dane, who seems destined for greatness, signed for a flawless round of 64, which equalled the Gainsborough Course record at a sun-soaked Stoke by Nayland Golf, Hotel and Spa near Colchester, Essex.
Olesen will now be the red-hot favourite to take the €24,000 first prize, having followed up his victory at The Princess with top 15 finishes in his two subsequent appearances.
The Dane, currently second in the Challenge Tour Rankings, reached the turn in 34, but his round exploded into life on the way home with four birdies and an eagle at the 14th, where he holed his wedge shot from 80 yards, to finish on 17 under par.
Had his birdie putt from 30 feet on the last not horseshoed round the hole he would have set a new course record, but the 20 year old was still all smiles afterwards.
Olesen said: “My long putt for birdie on the ninth hole really got me going, because until that point nothing much had been happening for me. Then on the back nine I started holing some putts, and obviously the eagle on the 14th was a big bonus. My putting has been the main reason for my good results in the last few weeks, and if I putt well again tomorrow, hopefully I can finish the job off.”
In contrast to Olesen, Fleetwood flew out the blocks with two birdies in his first three holes, but promptly gave them back at the fifth and sixth holes.
Gains at the eighth and ninth holes followed to reach the turn in 34, and he came home in the same score courtesy of birdies at the 13th and 16th.
Despite a missed opportunity at the last, where he left his four feet birdie putt inches short of the cup, the Lancashire lad was still satisfied with his afternoon’s work – especially as expectations had been low coming into the week.
He said: “I’ve got to be pretty pleased, other than the fifth and sixth holes – and the weak putt on the last, which was unfortunately picked up by the cameras! But if someone at the start of the week had offered me second place going into the final day, I would’ve just about taken it.
“I had a practice round booked tomorrow at Little Aston ahead of the English Amateur Championship, so expectations weren’t exactly sky high! I’ve been pretty consistent for the first three days, but that hasn’t been the case for the past couple of months. So it’s good to know I can compete out here and hold my own against these guys.
“I had a practice session with my old coach Alan Thompson last week, and it seems to have done the trick. I’m hitting it really nicely, especially my fade shots off the tee. My putting has also been much better this week – I’ve holed more 15-20 feet putts this week than I have all year. If I can hole a few more and put pressure on the leader, then I might have half a chance. Four shots might sound a lot, but if he double bogeys and I make eagle, then we’re back to all square!
“You never know what’s going to happen, but if I can’t finish first then I want to finish second. My best four round total in my career so far has been 16 under, so that’s also a bit of a goal of mine. Hopefully I’ll have a bit of a support out there too – it’s quite a long way for my friends and family to travel down, but maybe they might surprise me!”
Overnight leader Daniel gaunt of Australia slipped back to a tie for second place alongside Fleetwood, after a round of 70 which featured five birdies and three bogeys.
England’s Ben Evans, who birdied the last three holes in his round of 67, joined the Scottish duo of Craig Lee and Callum Macaulay in a tie for fourth place on 12 under par.