Scotland’s David James shot a superb round of 66 to join the English duo of Simon Brown and Wraith Grant at the top of the leaderboard on the third day of the European Senior Tour Qualifying School Final.
A commanding performance on the greens moved James to the head of affairs on seven under par alongside Brown and Grant, who both made four birdies in their respective rounds of 68.
James bounced back from an opening bogey at Pestana Golf Resort’s Vale da Pinta course to notch seven birdies, which have put him in pole position to claim one of the six full cards available for the 2013 Senior Tour season.
He said: “I putted very well today, which got me out of trouble. I actually missed two short putts but holed a fair few long ones too, so I’ll need to keep that form going on the greens, because my driving this week has been poor. It’s actually a fairly straightforward golf course, so if you can keep it on the straight and narrow there are plenty of birdies to be had.
“But with the way I’m hitting the ball off the tee, I can’t really afford to relax. I made a few mental errors today, so I need to stay focused on the last day to stand a chance of seeing it through. But my putting gives me hope. If I can somehow start finding the fairways off the tee I can almost guarantee a good round, because the rest of my game is in pretty good working order.”
Brown got off to a flying start with successive birdies from the first hole, before adding another gain at the fifth and then recovering from his only bogey of the day at the 11th with another birdie at the next.
He would have grabbed the outright lead were it not for spurned opportunities on the 16th and 17th holes, but was nonetheless content to settle for a round of 68 which moved him one step closer to securing a debut campaign on the Senior Tour.
He said: “I hit the ball close today, which was good because the pins were in quite tricky positions. Hopefully I can play nicely on the final day – my aim is as simple as that. I’m sure there will be a few butterflies in the stomach, but I’m normally fairly calm on the course, so I just need to stay in the moment and go through my normal processes and routines. I know I’m playing well enough, it’s just a case of getting over the line now.”
Grant echoed those sentiments after shooting his third successive sub-par round to close in on a place in the all-important top six.
He said: “I had to be patient today because my first birdie didn’t come until the ninth hole, and I’d missed a few chances up to then. I didn’t get frustrated because I knew I was playing well and was confident more birdies would come, and luckily enough that’s how it worked out.
“I’ve got the manager of my golf club and a friend who sponsors me out here, so they’ve managed to keep me relaxed and took my mind off the golf. It won’t be easy tomorrow but I’m probably a better player when I’m nervous than when I’m relaxed, because it helps me to concentrate more. I’ve just got to play my natural game and see where it takes me.”
Spaniard José Manuel Carriles and American Robert Thompson currently share third place on four under par after signing for respective rounds of 68 and 71.
A total of 60 players will contest the final round, with the top six players gaining full cards and the next eight securing conditional cards.