Estanislao Goya continued his relentless form at the Qualifying School Final Stage with a flying finish capping a flawless 64 on Monday to stretch his lead to two as the marathon examination reached its halfway point at PGA Catalunya Resort.
Playing the more straightforward Tour Course after an overnight re-draw, Goya found close to his best form in the third round to stay clear of a number of challengers throughout the day, including Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg and Italy’s Matteo Delpodio, who both shot five under par 65. Mikko Korhonen and Moritz Lampert are a shot further back, and all four challengers led at some stage on what was an intriguing day in northern Spain.
With conditions predicted to deteriorate from Tuesday onwards before the field is cut to 70 and ties after the fourth round, all 156 competitors knew that a low score on Monday could prove crucial, and Goya, the 2009 Madeira Islands Open Champion and leader by one overnight, set about his task with focus and resolve despite not reaping much early reward.
After starting with a birdie at the par five tenth hole – his first – Goya stayed patient as ten straight pars preceded a storming finish in which the 24 year old made a second gain at the par four third, while four birdies in his last five holes helped the Cordoba man reach 13 under par for the tournament.
“I played very well again, especially on the front nine, which was my back nine,” said Goya, who has only dropped three shots all week. “I started a bit slowly and the first nine holes were a little frustrating. I was hitting greens but not really close enough and wasn’t making putts.
“I started to play really well after the turn and the birdie at the third – my 12th – gave me a big boost. Then I finished with four birdies in the last five holes which was excellent. I’m really pleased with how I finished.
“Yesterday I didn’t hit my driver very well, so after my round I went to the range to try to work out what was going wrong. Other than that it’s a case of trying to conserve energy as it’s a long week. I won’t do too much practice, but just do what I need to do to keep ticking along.
“I feel very good physically, so hopefully I’ll be able to take advantage of that. There’s still a long way to go. I have to stay calm and focused. I’m playing very well so if I can continue this it will be great.
“I’ve won on The European Tour before, so I have that confidence and experience.”
Lundberg, playing in the penultimate group after back-to-back rounds of 68 over the weekend, also made a slow start on Monday but found his rhythm as the day drew on.
He said: “I didn’t start off very well – I three-putted the tenth, bogeyed the 11th and missed a short birdie putt on the 12th. But then I made a long putt on the 13th and that got me going. After that I played a lot better. On the 18th I hit the green in two and two-putted for birdie, and on the second I nearly holed my second shot – it was just a few inches away.
“I had two good birdies on the third and fourth and made an amazing two-putt on the fifth. And then I finished it off with a nice putt on the last. My game was way better on the first day, but overall I’m very pleased and I’m in a good position. There are still a few things to work on, but hopefully I can keep grinding out good scores and stay in contention.”
Delpodio fared somewhat better than his colleagues in the early stages of his third round, starting with four birdies in his opening five holes to surge into the lead at that point.
Following ten successive pars, Delpodio made eagle at the par five seventh after hitting his approach to three feet, before a bogey at the following hole meant the Challenge Tour Member slipped back into a share for second.
“It’s a European Tour card so we know it will be tough, so there is only one thing you can do – stay patient,” said the 27 year old from Turin. “It’s not like I am going for every flag but you have to play well and be smart and say to myself ‘I've got a good score here, let’s keep going’.
“I'm giving everything I have this week.”
Low-scorer of the day on Sunday with an eight under par 62, Finland’s Korhonen followed up with a four under par 66 in the third round to claim a share of fourth alongside German amateur Lampert.
After signing for a five under par 65, the Sandhausen man championed his influential friend, Ryder Cup star and compatriot Martin Kaymer, and the influence he has had on his development.
He said: “I got to know Martin a year ago and we text sometimes. It’s difficult with all the travelling but he does to stay in touch. He’s helped me out quite a lot and it would be great to follow in his footsteps.
“I played really solidly today and hit a lot of fairways and greens. I missed a couple of short birdie putts and unfortunately three-putted the last hole for a bogey, but it’s not too bad.
“The main strength in my game is that I hit a lot of fairways, which is particularly important here as it’s difficult to hit it close if you’re hitting out of the rough. Obviously the scoring is going lower every day, so it’s just a question of hitting greens and making some putts.”
The majority of those in contention will take on the more demanding Stadium Course in Tuesday’s fourth round, before 36 final nail-biting holes on the 7,333-yard layout will determine the fate of the 25 cards on offer for The 2013 European Tour International Schedule.