Simon Thornton’s more professional attitude to the game has paid off over the past six minths and a second win of the season in the Portugal Masters at Vilamoura on Sunday would catapult him into the big time and earn him a place in the HSBC Champions.
A six under par 65 left the former Royal County Down assistant in a share of second place on 14 under par with Jamie Donaldson, Hennie Otto and Scot Jamieson, just two strokes behind leader Paul Waring of England.
Jamieson almost chipped in at the last for the European Tour’s first 59 but had to settle for a 60 as Donaldson shot 66 and Otto a 69.
But Thornton, who had seven birdies and just one bogey in his 65, is looking forward to the challenge having won in St Omer in June and contended for victory going into the final round of the Italian Open.
“I can’t wait now for tomorrow,” Thornton said after coming up just inches short with his birdie putt at the 18th. “I had an experience over in Italy, playing with Francesco [in the penultimate group] was great, but hopefully this can be different tomorrow. Looking forward to it.”
Ranked 312th in the world from 742nd less than 18 months ago, Thornton will go off in the penultimate group with Donaldson hoping to do better than he did in Turin a few weeks ago when a closing 74 saw him slip from fifth to 16th.
He knows he is going to have to be patient and not put too much pressure on himself early on to make birdies in what promises to be a low scoring affair.
“It’s a long round for a start - over 18 holes, anything can happen,” he said. “You just have to keep ticking them off and being aggressive. You’re going to have to shoot birdies. So 15 under is not going to win, it’s going to be 17, 18, you’d have thought. So have to keep making birdies.
“Sometimes you get hard on yourself because you’re expecting it to happen too quick. But if you just let things happen, be a bit more natural, it’s going to be much easier, anyway, to play the game. So that’s what I’ll be doing.”
Thornton’s story is a remarkable one in that he was about to give up the game last winter. But his life changed when he took a more professional attitude to his preparation, paying special attention to his diet and fitness and took advantage to win the dual ranking event at St Omer in June.
“At the end of last year I was finishing,” he said. “That was me done. It’s amazing. With two kids, being away, playing Challenge Tour and making nothing, placing decent and getting nowhere. It’s a great lifestyle if you can be at the top and that’s why I want to do it. If I am not at the top, I am not doing it.
“I have started to do more work than I have ever done of the last 12 months. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t fit enough. Probably didn’t eat the right stuff or take it as seriously as I should do. I probably just went out and hit balls.
“So I started doing a lot of work on all the areas of the game. I have a few friends involved on the fitness side and the eating side. I got a nutritionist and Team Ireland have been brilliant. They put me in contact and I went away and did the work.
“The worst thing for me was Chinese food. I could have Chinese every night of the week. I just love it. I have started to watch what I eat and it makes a big difference. I didn’t think it did. I thought you just fill your belly and go out and play golf.
“I have started to watch what I eat a bit more. The whole thing, the training side. You realise that a little bit of everything can save you one shot a tournament. A bit more dedication maybe. “
Paul McGinley (71) and David Higgins (69) are tied for 48th place on five under par but the man to beat is Waring, who edged ahead of a tightly packed leaderboard on a day when Jamieson came agonisingly close to the first 59 on The European Tour.
Waring signed for a four under par 67 to move to 16 under par, but before he had even teed off at Oceânico Victoria Golf Course Jamieson was completing a sublime 60 which took him to 14 under overall.
Having reached the turn in 29, the Scot continued his charge on the back nine, and gains at the 16th and 17th holes left him needing a birdie on the tricky par four 18th. From the middle of the fairway his approach just ran off the back of the green, and his return chip grazed the right edge of the hole.
“I birdied the 13th to be eight under for the round, and I turned and said to my caddie, ‘let’s make history’,” said Jamieson. “To hit one down the middle on 18 was a relief and I hit a great shot into the last, but it just pitched on a downslope and ran on.
“The chip looked awfully good, and a foot out I thought it still looked good, but it wasn’t to be. My nerves level was right up there with the play-off in South Africa, when I managed to win. I’m just delighted that I could keep making birdies coming down the stretch when I knew what was on the line.”
Waring is seeking his first win on The European Tour, and victory in Vilamoura would be the perfect way to put his recent injury woes firmly behind him.
“I had a lot of time to almost start again with my swing,” said the 28 year old of his year-long lay-off following wrist surgery. “I’ve also worked so hard on the scoring side of things - chipping and putting and especially pitching with the wedges. It’s been long and hard but it’s worth it.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and you don’t know what happens with the other lads or what anyone else is going to score. All I can do is control what I can control and do what I can do.”
Alongside Jamieson on 14 under are South African Hennie Otto (69), Welshman Jamie Donaldson (66) and Thornton (65). Three more players – Spaniards Pablo Larrazábal and Alvaro Quiros and Scotsman Chris Doak – are another shot back at 13 under par heading into the final round.
Third round scores
197 P Waring (Eng) 67 63 67,
199 S Jamieson (Sco) 66 73 60, S Thornton (Irl) 65 69 65, H Otto (RSA) 66 64 69, J Donaldson (Wal) 65 68 66,
200 P Larrazábal (Esp) 69 67 64, A Quiros (Esp) 65 67 68, C Doak (Sco) 67 64 69,
201 J Walters (RSA) 69 63 69, B Wiesberger (Aut) 66 65 70,
202 S Gallacher (Sco) 70 67 65, M Baldwin (Eng) 67 66 69, N Colsaerts (Bel) 68 67 67, R Coles (Eng) 67 71 64, J Lara (Esp) 67 69 66,
203 F Molinari (Ita) 68 72 63, D Lynn (Eng) 65 65 73,
204 R Fisher (Eng) 67 66 71, C Wood (Eng) 66 71 67, M Kaymer (Ger) 68 68 68, R Jacquelin (Fra) 71 66 67, R Derksen (Ned) 69 68 67,
205 F Aguilar (Chi) 65 70 70, T Lewis (Eng) 70 67 68, D Willett (Eng) 69 67 69, R Gonzalez (Arg) 72 68 65, R Wattel (Fra) 71 67 67, A Wall (Eng) 68 68 69, A Kaleka (Fra) 72 65 68, S Kjeldsen (Den) 69 65 71,
206 A Sullivan (Eng) 66 74 66, M Madsen (Den) 71 68 67, V Dubuisson (Fra) 67 67 72, F Andersson Hed (Swe) 67 71 68, A Cañizares (Esp) 67 68 71, E De La Riva (Esp) 69 71 66, J Campillo (Esp) 69 68 69, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 71 66 69, J Quesne (Fra) 66 69 71,
207 T Fleetwood (Eng) 67 69 71, G Mulroy (RSA) 70 69 68, A Noren (Swe) 70 68 69, M Siem (Ger) 66 72 69, M Tullo (Chi) 66 70 71, L Slattery (Eng) 71 66 70, A Dodt (Aus) 72 66 69, G Fdez-Castaño (Esp) 69 67 71,
208 D Higgins (Irl) 71 68 69, M Kieffer (Ger) 65 71 72, D Drysdale (Sco) 71 68 69, P Lawrie (Sco) 69 66 73, D Howell (Eng) 69 68 71, S Hansen (Den) 66 72 70, P McGinley (Irl) 71 66 71, R Green (Aus) 71 69 68,
209 T Björn (Den) 74 63 72, S Benson (Eng) 67 72 70, G Storm (Eng) 65 72 72, G Havret (Fra) 70 70 69, E Kofstad (Nor) 72 67 70, D Horsey (Eng) 67 69 73, M Jiménez (Esp) 71 69 69,
210 R Ramsay (Sco) 70 70 70, R Bland (Eng) 69 71 70, J Van Zyl (RSA) 69 67 74, J Luiten (Ned) 68 69 73, T Aiken (RSA) 71 69 70,
211 E Pepperell (Eng) 67 72 72, A Hartø (Den) 69 71 71, R Rock (Eng) 71 68 72, C Paisley (Eng) 71 69 71,
213 J Sjöholm (Swe) 71 67 75.