A course record 63 on the Old Course at St Andrews helped Paul Lawrie into a share of the lead with Paul McGinley in the Dunhill Links Championship and brought some golfing sunshine, at least, to the weather affected third round of the inaugural event.
Almost 24 hours after he began his third round on Saturday morning, the 1999 Open champion’s superb nine under par effort represented the best card recorded at the Home of Golf since the course was lengthened in 1997.
It moved the Scot to 14 under par 202 for the tournament, alongside McGinley who carded 71 at Carnoustie, the duo one shot clear of double US Open champion Ernie Els, who carded a 68 for 203 at St Andrews, and two ahead of fourth placed David Howell whose 69 at Carnoustie moved him to 204.
The one consolation for all players was that they were not required to venture out again in the freezing fog and driving rain which once more delayed the start of play and interrupted proceedings throughout the day.
Tournament organisers decided to concentrate solely on getting the third round finished on Sunday before starting the fourth and final round at St Andrews – weather permitting – at 9.00am on Monday.
Although cold and wet, Lawrie was delighted with an effort which propelled him from the middle of the field into a share of pole position for the massive first prize of 881,251 euro (£551,040), which represents over £200,000 more than he received for his Major victory at Carnoustie two years ago.
“I’m pleased with that obviously but it was nice to see a few putts going in for me for a change. I’ve played well all year but I’ve struggled on the greens, my season has been about regularly taking 33 or 34 putts for 71 or 72,” he said.
“I used to have a long and slow stroke but I started to have difficulty reading the pace of putts like that so I’ve worked hard with Adam (Hunter) over the past few weeks trying to shorten my stroke to get more control and to have a more continuous roll.
“It certainly seemed to work because every putt I hit today was dead centre and a good pace – as well as the three or four footers, it was also nice to see a few long ones drop in – that always helps your card.”
Having restarted his round at the 13th, the 32 year old Scot was quickly back on the birdie trail, pitching to five feet and holing out at the long 14th, before rolling in a 15 footer at the next for another birdie.
It moved the Scot to 15 under par for the tournament but the intervention of the klaxon to inform players to come off the course before he was about to putt on the Road Hole 17th, put Lawrie off his stroke and he three putted to record his only dropped shot of the day.
Alongside Lawrie, McGinley had to wait until after after 11am to resume his third round at Carnoustie but when he did, he began in style, finding the heart of the 479 yard par five 12th in two before two putting for a birdie four. On Saturday McGinley had been steadiness personified with 11 straight pars before the weather closed in and, after his birdie opener, he returned to a similar vein.
The 34 year old Irishman closed with six straight pars for a 71 but showed courage and resilience to protect his card, pitching and putting for par at the 13th, 16th and 17th, before repeating the feat at the last, coming up short of the Barry Burn in two before pitching to ten feet and calmly rolling in the putt.
Third placed Els resumed his third round at the ninth on the Old Course and, like McGinley, was quickly into his stride. A birdie at the tenth, was followed by two in succession at the 14th and 15th before he repeated the error made by Lawrie an hour earlier when he three-putted the 17th for bogey.
But the South African managed what Lawrie couldn’t, namely making a birdie at the 18th, pitching over the Valley of Sin to six feet before stroking home his curling right to left effort.
“I think 68 is a good score but I felt the way the wind blew for us – it was helping us most of the way over the two days – was pretty easy,” said Els. “Therefore it might have been a bit better and I also had three three-putts in the round which I could have done without - but all in all, it wasn’t bad.”
Fourth placed David Howell, the 1999 Dubai Desert Classic champion, again exhibited the consistency which he has shown over the course of the season to move into a challenging position once more, the 26 year old’s cause helped considerably by birdies at each of the two closing holes at Carnoustie.
In the concurrently running pro-am tournament, which will see the top 20 teams contest the final day, joint leaders after three rounds were Lucas Parsons and his amateur partner Jeremy Lambourne, alongside Brett Rumford and his partner Chris Peacock, both pairings standing at 27 under par.