American Pete Oakley upstaged an illustrious line up of stars to take the third round lead in the Senior British Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Oakley made it through the 18 hole qualifier on Tuesday to book his place in this week’s €1.47 million (£1 million) event and now finds himself in a fairytale position at the top of the leaderboard.
He shot a one over par 73 to lead the tournament on two under par from compatriot Don Pooley and Ireland’s Mark McNulty, who both carded 74s.
When asked if he had expected to do so well Oakley said: “Not in my wildest dreams. I was more nervous trying to qualify for the event, which I did this past Tuesday, 132 players trying to qualify for 20 spots.”
Oakley started the day in the joint lead with McNulty, Pooley, and England’s Carl Mason. He finished with the outright lead when Pooley bogeyed the last on a windy and cold day.
Said Oakley:“I was a little bit antsy today getting ready to tee it up with Tom Kite and Mark James, who are names I’ve heard of and watched on television and have admired for so long. And they are both great gentlemen out there to me today and very nice. I felt comfortable and fairly relaxed and I played fairly well. So it was a pleasure to play and keep up with those two, which I did.”
Oakley, in his first season on the European Seniors Tour, has enjoyed a very successful club professional career in the United States and won the 1999 PGA Senior Club Professional Championship. His brother David has won four times on the European Seniors Tour.
McNulty calmly handled the pressure of playing his first tournament in Northern Ireland as an Irishman.
“I would certainly put it down as one of the toughest days I have had in my career. I had some silly mistakes and in the beginning of my round I just lost my swing and didn’t feel comfortable,” said McNulty, who took out Irish citizenship at the end of 2003.
England’s Mark James is on the threshold of winning his second successive Major in the senior game. He won the Ford Senior Players Championship two weeks ago on the US Champions Tour, spent last week commentating at the Open Championship, and stayed in the hunt with a 74 to lie at even par along with Kite.
James is in confident mood although the same can not be said about his hopes for the weather. “I believe the forecast is pretty iffy here for the next 20 years so I am not holding my breath.”
Former US Open winner Kite is well placed heading into the final round.
“What a day. It’s a difficult course most times but it was even more so today with those conditions. I putted poorly today, but I’m still in the tournament. It was especially frustrating especially after playing so well yesterday. The wind has changed direction every day and today was probably the most difficult we’ve seen the course this week. It was quite a battle out there,” said Kite.
Argentina’s Eduardo Romero, who turned 50 last Saturday, is two over for the championship along with Scotland’s Bill Longmuir.
Mason, beaten by American Tom Watson in a play-off last year, fell back with an 81 and is six over.