Jamie McLeary remained on course to double his tally of Challenge Tour titles on the third day of the M2M Russian Challenge Cup, but his advantage was cut to two strokes by the chasing pack.
The Scot signed for a three-birdie round of 71 to move to nine under par at Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club, on the outskirts of the Russian capital Moscow, where Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen and England’s Sam Walker are his nearest challengers after respective rounds of 69 and 70.
McLeary, whose sole Challenge Tour victory came on home soil at last year’s Scottish Hydro Challenge, made a sluggish start with an opening bogey after a wayward tee shot, but responded immediately with a birdie on the second hole.
He had to wait until the 15th hole for his next birdie, and despite dropping a shot at the 16th he again hit back straight away with a birdie at the par five 17th for the third day in succession.
The man from Edinburgh has now set his sights on collecting the €28,000 first prize, which would in all probability see him leap into the all-important top 20 of the Challenge Tour Rankings, and also enable him to grant his fiancée’s wish to buy a new shed and renovate their back garden.
He said: “I’m probably going to need to play better and go lower on the last day, because Sam played well today and I expect him to play well again tomorrow. Thorbjørn’s also on my tail and even though Scott [Jamieson] is a few shots back, he’s also well capable of shooting a 66. So I’ll definitely need a better day, because I got away with a few wayward shots today – a 71 was probably the best I could’ve possibly shot. I putted very well – on another day a few of the putts maybe wouldn’t have dropped, and I’d find myself a couple of shots behind. My driving today was poor – I normally hit my drives with a fade but today everything was drawing, and it wasn’t until the 14th hole that I realised I should probably aim a bit further right! Once I figured that out, I started playing a bit better and growing in confidence.
“I didn’t feel nervous at all today – I felt very calm and didn’t get annoyed, so hopefully I can have the same approach on the final day. There aren’t many leaderboards out there which probably suits me, because I don’t tend to pay much attention to them anyway. And I’ll know what my playing partners are doing in any case, so I’ll have a front row seat. When I won in Scotland last year I just concentrated on what I was doing – I didn’t know what score Edoardo [Molinari] was on until I was coming down the last, so I’ll probably try to adopt the same approach tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll be good enough because I need a jump up the Rankings, plus my fiancée’s been telling me for a while that we could do with getting our back garden levelled, and I also need to buy a shed to store my clubs in. Hopefully I can kill two birds with one stone, so that we both have a good day and get what we want!”
Both Olesen and Walker have already won on this season’s Challenge Tour, the Dane at The Princess in Sweden and the Englishman in Brittany, France.
But since their victories their respective seasons have taken rather different paths, with Olesen going from strength to strength whilst Walker has struggled to rediscover his form.
Walker, currently 30th in the Challenge Tour Rankings, lamented his poor putting display, but was encouraged with his long game.
“I holed a lovely putt on the first hole for birdie but after that hardly anything dropped,” said Walker. “My only bogey on the tenth hole was a three putt, and I just couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm on the greens, whereas yesterday it was a completely different story. But I’m still in there with a chance, mainly thanks to my long game, and if I can find my form on the greens again then hopefully I can put a score together. I’ve got to try to put some pressure on Jamie with some early birdies, and just hope he doesn’t putt as well as he did today. He holed some great putts for par and even for bogey, so he could’ve easily come back to us. But he didn’t, so all credit to him.”
Olesen’s start matched his error-strewn opening yesterday, as he bogeyed the first and second holes to fall down the leaderboard.
But the Dane, fifth in the Rankings and so secure of his place on The European Tour next term, rallied in fine fashion with five birdies to set up the chance of clinching his second Challenge Tour title in an impressive rookie season.
Olesen said: “I hit a couple of bad shots on the first hole and then three-putted the second, so I’ve had better starts! I wouldn’t say I’m normally a slow starter, but some days just go like that. Hopefully I can get off to a good start tomorrow and try to put some pressure on Jamie. I’m looking forward to it – I need to be a little more aggressive, but also just play my own natural game. If I can make some putts, particularly early on, it could make things interesting.
“Maybe the fact that I’ve already secured my card for next season will be an advantage – I certainly hope so. There’s obviously still pressure on me to win, but maybe it’s a bit less than some of the other guys near the top of the leaderboard. I probably should’ve won more than once already this season, because I’ve had a couple of other chances. But I’m only 20, so I’ve still got a lot to learn about the game. And if I can win here this week, it will definitely make up for it.”
Austrian Tholmas Feyrsinger posted the lowest round of the day, a seven-birdie 67, to move to fourth place on six under par.
Feyrsinger attributed his improvement to a change in his putting technique – he has reverted to his youth, when he used to imitate the putting stroke of the great Jack Nicklaus who, coincidentally, designed the course at Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club.
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