Defending Champion Glenn Ralph conjured two birdies in his last three holes in a devilishly swirling St Andrews crosswind to snatch a one stroke lead from Barry Lane going into the final round of the Cleveland Golf / Srixon Scottish Senior Open.
The Englishman birdied the 16th and 18th holes of the Torrance Course at Fairmont St Andrews to leapfrog Senior Tour Rookie Lane at the top of the leaderboard, posting one of only nine under par rounds – a one under 71 – to move to five under 139 going into the final round.
Lane matched the defending champion’s second round effort to stay just one back as he bids to win the first Senior Tour event of his career and his second tournament in Scotland, having made his European Tour breakthrough in the Home of Golf at the 1988 Scottish Open at Gleneagles.
Also in contention is Ireland’s Des Smyth who, should he win the £37,500 first prize from the £250,000 prize fund on offer at Fairmont St Andrews, would have won a tournament in each of the past five decades.
Smyth is currently tied third with Englishman DJ Russell and the South African Chris Williams on three under par, but the day belonged to Ralph who stole ahead of the field with that wonderful finish after a brutish day on the golf course.
“It was a bit of a surprise to finish like that over the last three holes to be honest because we were hanging on out there today,” confirmed the defending champion.
“Par was a great score on every hole today because the balls were flying around everywhere with that crosswind. It was really tough and the wind was howling all day – it was one of those rounds when you just keep thinking the greens are not big enough!
“I hit a lovely little pitch into 16 and it came up on the right side of the hole so the wind didn’t affect the ball at all and then made another great up and down at the last so it was happy days.
“I wasn’t leading going into the last round last year so it is a slightly different position for me but I don’t care about any of that at the moment – all I am bothered about is leading tomorrow afternoon when the last putt drops. I’m loving all of this, it’s great.
“I do feel the pressure in a way but that is why we are out here. It’s such a funny thing though when you throw pressure and adrenaline into the mix because you can’t play without it and you can’t play with it if that makes any sense.
“You need the adrenaline to keep you going but then when it is there it can be your biggest enemy because it rushes your swing when it is flowing through and can cause all sorts of problems – the key tomorrow will be trying to control all of that and the guys how does that best will no doubt come out on top.”
Lane is relishing the opportunity of a second victory in Scotland, a country he fell in love with as he secured his first professional win 22 years ago.
“I have always loved coming to Scotland and have always got on great with the crowds and galleries up here since winning at Gleneagles back in 1988. It would be great to win in the Home of Golf again.”
While Ralph, Lane and Smyth flourished in the blustery conditions at Fairmont, home favourite Sam Torrance, who designed the championship layout at this week, endured a tough day with a disappointing 77.
“I can’t win it from here now,” lamented Torrance. “I am striking the ball great at the moment but I made some mistakes around the greens that really cost me today. That’s just the game of golf – it can make you demented!”