Englishman Andrew Johnston extended his lead to two shots heading into the final round of the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, but he has two-time winner Moritz Lampert on his tail as the German aims to emulate the achievement of last year’s champion Brooks Koepka.
Johnston, chasing a maiden title, entered ‘moving day’ one shot clear of a leaderboard packed full of former European Tour and Challenge Tour winners, but the 25 year old displayed the composure of a seasoned veteran as he battled it out with his compatriot Jason Barnes in the final group.
The two countrymen exchanged the lead numerous times in an enthralling front nine but as Barnes stumbled to three bogeys in the space of four holes around the turn, Johnston remained steady and birdied the 16th and 17th to move to 14 under par at the pristine Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club.
Barnes was still well in the hunt though, as he lay in second place on 12 under alongside Australia’s Terry Pilkadaris and Lampert, who would become the second winner of the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts to earn automatic promotion to The European Tour thanks to a third title of the season.
Johnston just wants to stay focussed on his own game, however, and enjoy his first experience of leading on Sunday on the Challenge Tour, especially given the crowds that turned out to watch him on day three.
“I just have to go out there and play, do my best, and see what happens,” said the Londoner, who graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2011. “There’s nothing else you can do.
“It was a good day today. My objective was to just stay up there on top so I’m happy with that. I prepared well before this, I had a good week to practise and prepare for this tournament and that has been key.
“This is definitely an event I looked at in my schedule and thought I could do well in. The course suits my game and I like the area so it’s always a really good week. I really like it in Scotland.
“I think this is the first time I've gone into a final round leading. It’s a bit exciting but a bit nerve-wracking. You want to be there though, you want to play in that final group. That’s why you play so I'm looking forward to it.
“There were some good crowds out there and it’s nice when you’re playing well - they applaud you’re shots and cheer you on. It was really nice support.”
Lampert moved firmly into contention for a career-changing victory courtesy of the best round of the day at the spectacular highlands venue, in the resort town of Aviemore, as he signed for a flawless six under par 66.
While he is well aware of the hype that is surrounding his title chase among the Scottish media and beyond, the 22 year old is just delighted to have given himself a chance and is feeling confident he can follow in the footsteps of Koepka, who has since gone on to become one of the hottest prospects in world gold after a top five finish in the US Open Championship recently.
“Of course everybody is asking me about it,” said Lampert, who is attached to European Tour Destination Golf Club St Leon-Rot. “But there’s not much I can do except give my best and prepare the same way. I'm going to practise a little now and get some rest this afternoon and have a good meal and see what happens tomorrow.
“The only thing I could do today was just put myself into contention and I managed to do that. I don’t know what the weather is going to be like or how the course will set up. There are so many different things that can make it more difficult but all I can do is just try my best and see where I end up.
“Of course it would be great to win tomorrow but we’ll see what happens. I'm really looking forward to it, I always look forward to playing golf but being in contention on the last day is amazing. I'm playing well and I feel good so I don’t have anything to worry about. I just want to get out there.
“I started really well today. It’s the first day I really struck it well from the first hole onward. I missed a few putts on the first few holes but then holed a big one on eight and another on 15. The rest was just tee to green and hitting good putts.
“That putt at eight was great because two under is a good front nine, but three under is better and once you get through 11 and 12 you’ll have a couple of chances coming in.
“I've been playing well recently and once you make a couple of putts it gives you that extra confidence where you think you can go really low.”
Lampert’s compatriot Florian Fritsch signed for a five under par 66 to move to within three shots of the lead, having been just missed out on a first Challenge Tour title last week, when he was beaten in a play-off by Englishman William Harrold at the Belgian Challenge Open.
He was joined on 11 under par by England’s Jamie Elson, Spaniard Xavier Guzman and Bjorn Åkesson of Sweden, while former European Tour winner Maarten Lafeber of the Netherlands, 2014 Turkish Airlines Challenge winner Oliver Farr and Scot Greig Hutcheon were joined in a share of ninth place by Frenchman Edouard Espana.