Sam Little made a big move up the leaderboard on the third day of the M2M Russian Challenge Cup with a superb round of 66 to take a share of the lead with Swede Pelle Edberg and Austria’s Florian Praegant.
Little kept the bogeys off his card in an immaculate display at Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club, Jack Nicklaus’ stunning creation on the outskirts of Moscow, to finish the day on seven under par alongside Edberg and Praegant, who both carded rounds of 68.
The Londoner climbed 16 places up the leaderboard courtesy of four birdies and an eagle at the par five eighth hole for the second day in succession. Little will now go in search of a third Challenge Tour title which would propel him into the all-important top 20 of the Rankings, with just five events left this season.
He said: “I got off to a good start with a birdie on the sixth and another eagle on the eighth, then after the birdie at the tenth I made two great par putts on the 11th and 12th to keep the momentum going. Then I birdied the 17th and holed a 30-footer for birdie from the front edge of the 18th green, so it was a great finish to a very good day.
“I’m hitting the ball very well, which is a huge advantage out here because the course is playing very long with the fairways so wet. I got off to a very poor start on the first day and was four over after four holes, so to be seven under with one round left to play is very pleasing indeed.
“I played well last week in Kazakhstan except for on the last day, so I came here knowing that my game was in pretty good order. I’m looking forward to the final day, because it’s always good to be up near the top of the leaderboard and challenging for titles. But I shan’t be getting too far ahead of myself after one good round, because I’ve been in those game far too long for that.”
Praegant is yet to open his account on the Challenge Tour, but came mightily close recently at the Norwegian Challenge, where he was edged out in a sudden death play-off by Italian Andre Pavan. The 27 year old is currently 17th in the Challenge Tour Rankings, and could cement his place on The European Tour next term with a strong finish on the final day of the €250,000 event.
Praegant, who mixed six birdies with two bogeys, said: “Even though I made quite a few birdies the highlight of my day was probably making par for the first time on the 11th and 12th, because they’re such tough holes that even a bogey isn’t a bad score. After that there are a few easier holes which I managed to birdie, so I’m very pleased with my round.
“I struggled a bit off the tee, but still managed to keep it in play – mainly because the fairways here are so wide. I was hitting it left, right, anywhere but down the middle really! I only hit eight fairways today, so if I can drive the ball a little better on the final day, hopefully I should have a good chance. I’ve had some good weeks this year and have been in this position a couple of times already, so hopefully I can finish it off this time.”
Edberg has decided to concentrate solely on the Challenge Tour for the remainder of the season, having only enjoyed moderate success on The European Tour this year. The Swede got off to the perfect start with an opening birdie, and after dropping his only shot of the day on the third hole he hit straight back with a birdie at the next.
The highlight of Edberg’s day arrived at the eighth hole, where he found the green in two and holed an eagle putt from ten feet, and another birdie at the 15th hole saw him join Little and Praegant at the top of the leaderboard.
Edberg said: “It was a very solid day. The course really suits me, because it favours longer hitters. It’s very long, and very tough – the stretch of holes from the 11th is among the hardest I’ve ever played. So I was pleased to come through those holes without dropping a shot, and I also made a great par on the 17th hole, because I hit my second shot into the water. So that definitely helped keep my round going, and it also helped that Florian was playing well, because we inspired each other out there.
“It’s a big day for me tomorrow. I won’t be playing any more on the main Tour now – I’ll just play the next four events on the Challenge Tour, and I hope I can earn enough money to get into the Grand Final and maybe even the top 20 of the Rankings. All I can do is play as well as I possibly can and see where it takes me.”
England’s Andrew Johnston is currently in fourth place on six under par after posting a round of 66.
He said: “Today was really good. I needed to have a decent day to climb up the leaderboard, and that’s exactly what happened. The main difference today was my putting, because I’ve been striking the ball well all week, without having the scores to show for it. But today the putts dropped, starting from the second, where I holed a 25-footer from the front of the green. That got my confidence up, and after that the holed seemed much bigger. If I can get the putter working tomorrow and hole a few putts early on, who knows what might happen?”
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