Walton keeps card hopes alive

Ryder Cup hero Philip Walton produced a battling third round performance to revive his hopes to earning his European Tour card in Spain.

The 44-year-old Dubliner carded a three-under-par 69 on the New Course at San Roque to leap 35 spots up the leaderboard to a share of 58th on two over par.

Walton is still three shots adrift of the top 30 and ties who will earn their playing privileges for 2007 after six rounds.

But a solid round on the Old Course today should be more than enough to make the four-round cut for the top 70 and ties before the real battle for cards begins on Wednesday and Thursday.

As Spain’s Carlos Rodiles hit a 69 to lead by three shots on 13 under par from English teen sensation Oliver Fisher (69), Waterville’s David Higgins remained inside the vital top 30 despite carding a one over par 73 on the Old Course yesterday.

Tied for 23rd place on one under par, Higgins had three birdies and four bogeys on his card but declared himself happy with his progress in the gruelling six-round examination.

Like Higgins, Walton knows that there is still a long way to go if he is to regain the card he fought so hard to earn here in 2004.

But after firing five birdies and just two bogeys in brilliant Spanish sunshine, he feels he is going in the right direction at last on his eighth visit to an exercise he famously described as being “like a prison sentence.”

Starting on the back nine, he crashed to six over par for the tournament with an early bogey at the 12th but stormed back with four birdies in a row from the 13th to get his card quest up and running.

After rifling a five-iron to 20 feet at the par three 13th, he drained an 18 footer at the next and then rapped home a 25 footer at the 15th to go two under for the day.

A superb bunker shot to just one inch at the par five 16th gave him another massive boost and he kept this round on track with a Seve-like par save at the 446-yard first.

He explained: “I made a great four there. I was left off the tee, hit a tree and then I hit a four-iron into the trees but got a nice lie for a change and pitched it up over one of the trees and the trap to about four feet.”

Walton kept it going with par saves of between four and six feet at the fourth and fifth before draining another 20 footer for birdie at the sixth to go four under for the day.

His only mistake coming home came at the 225 yard eighth where he left his 40 foot birdie putt less than three feet short and never touched the hole with the next.

Walton added: “There’s always one but you just have to keep going. 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 Stephen Byrne 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. I like the look of the greens there.”

Higgins had three birdies and four bogeys on a course that was only brought back into play yesterday after heavy rain left it unplayable and officials will decide today which of the two San Roque courses will be used for the last two rounds.

After closing with a birdie at the ninth, Higgins said: "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.

“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.”