Mark James will take a two shot lead into the final round of the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship after battling the elements at De Vere Slaley Hall in Northumberland.
The 1999 Ryder Cup Captain carded a level par 72 for a five under par total of 139, but he will face a stern challenge from defending champion Andrew Oldcorn, who conjured a magnificent three under par 69 to join Swede Anders Forsbrand in second place on three under.
Heavy rain on Friday, which returned intermittently during Saturday’s play, had caused the Championship to be reduced to 54 holes, and it made playing conditions extremely challenging on the Hunting Course, forcing James to use all of his experience to plot his way around.
The 58 year old, chasing his first European Senior Tour title in three years, opened with a birdie on the second hole but gave that shot back with a bogey on the third. After a steady run of pars before the turn he then birdied the 11th and 13th holes to briefly move to seven under par and open up a four stroke lead over the field.
However the 18-time European Tour winner struggled with the water-affected greens on the way in and three-putted both the 14th and 18th from long range to drop back to five under par.
“It was a shame to three-putt the last, but it was so difficult out there today so 72 is a really good score,” said James. “I played reasonably. It’s so difficult hitting the ball off sodden fairways and putting off sodden greens. You don’t know what is going to happen. There is a lot of guesswork going on.
“You really are guessing how a ball is going to come off a fairway, or what it will do on a long putt. You actually don’t know what will happen.
“I found a nice dry bit on the second and felt quite confident, then I found a wet bit on the third and had a difficult chip on to a waterlogged green. It was like that all day really, so the conditions were difficult.
“I don’t think I could do much better than 72 in these conditions.”
Oldcorn completed a PGA double last year when he added the PGA Seniors Championship to the PGA Championship he won on The European Tour ten years previously and the Scot boosted his chances of defending the title with a superb round.
A bogey on the ninth, his closing hole, was the only blemish of the day for Oldcorn, who won by nine shots 12 months ago. He will start two shot behind James this time, but is firmly in contention after the lowest round of the day.
“I think that round was pretty exceptional,” said Oldcorn. “I hit it beautifully on the range, and I knew it was going to be a tough day for everybody but I played really well. I still felt as though I left a few out there.
“I took the decision to change my putter and I still missed one or two but I had 31 putts. I was disappointed to miss the six footer on the last, but overall I played great.
“I can’t do any more than I did today. I’ve put myself in a good position to retain the title. If I play as well as I did today I have got a chance. I’ve put myself right back in the tournament and it will be nice to put a bit of pressure on Mark tomorrow.”
Forsbrand, the six-time European Tour Champion, fired three birdies and two bogeys in a one under par round of 71 as he chases a maiden Senior Tour title.
Meanwhile Peter Fowler, the 2011 Senior Tour Order of Merit winner, is one shot further back on two under par 142 following a round of 70. The Australian, who celebrated his 53rd birthday today, had played 12 holes of his second round and picked up a shot on the fourth hole – his 13th – immediately after the restart, but double bogeyed the seventh to lie in fourth place.
“It was a really good start when you have been hanging around, waiting to play for so long,” ,” said Fowler, who had two knee operations prior to the start of the season.. “I would have been happy to have kept on going yesterday but they have done a fantastic job with the course to make it playable after so much rain.
“It was a bit frustrating then after the birdie on four to double seven, which is one of the easier holes on the course. I’m happy with the way I played though – I’m not too disappointed.”
Englishman Andrew Murray made a blistering start to his round with a birdie on the tenth followed by an eagle on the 11th and was four under par with two holes to play, but a double bogey on the eighth meant he signed for a 71 and slipped back to a share of fifth position on one under par.