Dubliner Philip Walton emerged from the shadows at the European Tour Qualifying School finals at San Roque yesterday when he carded a three-under par, third round 69 to boost his chances of winning back is card.
The hero of the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill catapulted himself 35 spots up the leaderboard to a share of 58th place on two over par, leaving him just three shots adrift Waterville's David Higgins, who is just inside the vital top 30 and ties on one under par after a third round 73.
The three-time European Tour winner began the day in a tenuous 93rd place on five over par and was six over par just three holes into his round when he took four shots to get down from 75 yards at the 341-yard 12th.
But he reacted strongly, picking up four birdies in a row from the 13th for an outward half of three under par 33 before coming home in 36 with a birdie at the sixth cancelled out by a careless, three-putt bogey at the 225-yard eighth, his 17th.
“It’s a move in the right direction,” said Walton, who is just one stroke inside the top 70 and ties who will make the 72-hole cut tonight, guaranteeing category seven status on the Challenge Tour next season.
“I missed a short putt there near the end but I’m right back in it now. I swung the club better today, I drove it well and I'm moving forward which is what matters.
“I was having a chat with my caddie last night and we thought that two rounds of 68 over the next two days would see us right.
“I missed that by one today but I am back in there again. So let's see if I can have another good one on the Old Course tomorrow. It's not in great condition but I like the look of the greens there.”
The Old Course was out of commission until yesterday due to heavy recent rain in the Sotogrande area and was still very soft as the top half of the field played it for the first time yesterday.
Spain’s Carlos Rodiles carded a three under par 69 to lead by three strokes on 13 under par from English amateur Oliver Fisher (68) with Warren Bennett (72) and Norway’s Eirik Tage Johansen (72) five strokes off the pace on eight under.
Higgins managed three birdies at the same venue but also dropped four shots to par, two of them caused by mud on the ball.
"It is playing very long and if you miss the fairway by just a few feet, as I did a couple of times today, you get big lumps of mud on the ball," Higgins said.
“If it plugs you're okay because you can clean and drop it. But I dropped shots on the 11th and the eighth because of mud on the ball.
“I have no idea what score I might need to qualify. I am just trying to play as well as I can and keep going.”