Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and his amateur partner Hugh Connerty Jnr consolidated their position at the top of the team event leaderboard after the third day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as Olympians Michael Phelps and Oscar Pistorius bid a fond farewell.
After a stunning opening round of a combined 59 strokes on the first day at St Andrews, Wales Open Champion Jaidee and his partner followed up with an eight under par 64 at the challenging Carnoustie on Saturday before a combined 12 under par round of 60 across Kingsbarns Golf Links left them five shots clear of their closest challenges, Alexander Noren and Swiss-Italian entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli.
Connerty Jnr, a successful businessman from Boston, America, cited his most memorable moment in golf as caddying for the legendary Gary Player during the 2006 US Masters Tournament, having bid for the prize in a charity auction.
But that could be surpassed if he and Jaidee, currently in a tie for seventh place on 13 under par in the pro event thanks to a five under par 67 on Saturday, can hold onto their slender lead for the remaining 18 holes.
A cut was made following the conclusion of play on Saturday with the top 20 teams progressing to the concluding round held at St Andrews on Sunday.
Olympians Michael Phelps and Oscar Pistorius, meanwhile, have enjoyed playing in their first Dunhill Links so much that despite the fact they will bow out after three rounds both are certain they want to return to Fife and Angus next year.
Phelps, the American swimmer who has won a record 18 Olympic gold medals, said: “It has been an awesome experience and when I was walking down the eighteenth fairway today with my partner Paul Casey, and looking at the famous St Andrews scene in front of me, I told him that I couldn’t believe I would ever be in that situation.
“Being able to play in this event as an amateur and to play alongside so many great golfers has been memorable, and there is so much history attached to the Old Course in particular that you can really feel it around you. I very much hope I get another invite, because it is something I would definitely love to experience again.”
Pistorius, the South African ‘Blade Runner’ who this year became the first Paralympian to take part in an Olympic Games, added: “Playing in this tournament has been phenomenal, and even better than I expected it to be. Everything is so well run, we have been taken care of everywhere we’ve gone, and the professionals have been so welcoming and down to earth. It’s been overwhelming.
“Being here at the Old Course today has been a gift, and I’ve been very lucky to have Paul McGinley as my partner over the last three days. He is so friendly and I got to meet his wife and daughter today. It has been great to get to know Paul, because he’s a great guy, and I just hope I can play in this tournament again.”
Phelps is still reliving the astonishing 53-yard putt that he sank at Kingsbarns, during his second round, and said: “I will never forget it. I just tried to get it to the top of the rise in the green and I couldn’t believe it when it then ran down the other side and all the way into the hole. It was a pretty cool feeling and a great moment. I just had to give a bit of a Tigeresque fist pump!
“Starting out at Carnoustie on the first day was a little tough, but I was able to play some good golf – in addition to that putt – and it was a blast. I was watching Paul and the other pros a lot, and asking a few questions, so hopefully I have picked up a few things to improve my golf too.”
Pistorius also had a great moment right at the end of his tournament, sinking a birdie putt on the eighteenth green at St Andrews, in front of the R&A clubhouse, and said: “That was a wonderful way to end what has been such a great week. All the three courses we played have been memorable, and all of them are fantastic courses in different ways.”
Neither Olympic hero, however, came close to challenging for the team title. Phelps and Casey finished in a tie for 80th place in the team competition, while Pistorius and McGinley ended up in a lowly 156th position out of 168. Not even that, though, could dampen their enjoyment.