Headfort’s Rory McNamara is poised to make the most of his last minute invitation into the Volopa Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort.
The 26-year old Co Meath man only got word he was in the event as he practiced at his La Cala Resort base in Spain on Monday. But after opening with rounds of 69 and 74 to make the cut on the mark, he fired seven birdies in a joint best of the day, six under 66 to move into the top 10 on seven under par in the race for the €28,800 top prize.
The former West and North of Ireland champion is the best of the Irish, though seven strokes behind Italy’s Nino Bertasio, who birdied four of his last eight for a 68 to lead by one on 14-under par from England’s Robert Coles (69) and by two from South Africa's Brandon Stone (67) and England's Tom Murray (69)
Clandeboye’s Jonny Caldwell (69) is nine shots off the lead in tied 20th on five under with Chris Selfridge (71) and Michael McGeady (72) a shot futher back.
It was also an average day for Rosapenna's Ruaidhri McGee, whose 73 saw him slip to tied 40th on two under alongside Richard Kilpatrick (74).
Alan Dunbar and Simon Thornton shot disappointing 76s to be level par and one over.
Bertasio had an up and down day before finishing in tremendous style by following a sand save at the 16th with a birdie at the 17th and a 35 foot bomb for par after driving into the water hazard at the 18th.
"I played well," said McNamara, who played with Maarten Lafeber. "I bogeyed the third by going into the bunker short but from there I had seven birdies, which is always quiet good. I had a lot of chances and holed a couple of nice putts."
With no support from Team Ireland golf, McNamara said he tried hard to get an invitation but failed and was practice putting at La Cala on Monday when he got the call.
"I was happy to get the invitation because I have been playing well," added McNamara, who is 39th on the EPD Tour in Germany after two top 10s in his 10 starts. "I've very grateful the Challenge Tour has given me the invitation.
"It's my first year as a pro so it is nice to be in an environment like this and to play with good players. Invitations for young Irish players and good amateurs are important. There are a lot of good players coming through but if you don't get the opportunity, you could get stuck.
"We have had some very good players who have not managed to get off a mini tour. If they got five or six starts on tour, goodness knows where they might be.
"I don't have Team Ireland support so hopefully next year I will get some, but who knows. I turned professional in November last year and the EPD Tour has been good. In amateur events in Ireland, you are playing links courses and a 72 or 73 is good and then it's matchplay and it doesn't matter.
"Playing EPD this year, you have to shoot low. My last 45 rounds I am maybe 50 under par. So I am shooting under par a lot. Other than that it is the same."
McNamara birdied the sixth (eight iron to a foot), seventh and ninth (five iron to 12 feet) to turn in two under par and came home in 32 by following birdies at the par-five 10th and 12th with another at the 13th before firing an eight iron inside four feet at the last
"I hit a few shots close and just played nicely, capitalised on the par fives," added McNamara, who deliberately opted to attack the par fives.
With no status on the Challenge Tour and only the Second Stage of Q-School to look forward to next month, the former Irish internatonal has nothing to lose by going on the attack at the Tullow venue.
"I've just decided to go for it and see what happens," he said. "I hit a few shots close and chipped a few stone dead."
As for leader Bertasio, he's 101st in the Challenge Tour rankings and badly in need of a big cheque with the Top 45 making the season ending Grand Final in Oman.
“It was much colder out there, we had a bit more wind and it was the toughest day so far definitely. I’m delighted with my game at the moment, especially because I haven’t been playing well lately," the 27-year old said.
On his 35 footer at the last, he added: “It was a crazy putt, I hit a terrible tee shot on and so I just wanted to get it up on the green and then I holed a huge bomb.
“I played great on the back nine, made some putts and made a lot of good shots and all three of us played great to be honest. There were a couple of bad swings from all of us but there were a lot of birdies out there so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“It was great, there were a lot of people and I was delighted to make that putt and get such a huge cheer from the crowds.
“I got off to a solid start and Tom struggled a bit at the beginning, then he started making birdies and an eagle too. I hit a bad tee shot on ten, made a bad bogey, then I made another on nine and then I had three in a row from 11 and another at 17, but it was nice to finish with that par.
“It was nice to come out on top, I’m very proud but there is still tomorrow and Robert is playing well, Tom is playing well, I saw a lot of good scores today so you have to play good golf to win, definitely.”
Volopa Irish Challenge scores hosted bt Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort (Par 72)
202 N Bertasio (Ita) 68 66 68,
203 R Coles (Eng) 65 69 69,
205 B Stone (RSA) 72 66 67, T Murray (Eng) 69 67 69,
206 G Boyd (Eng) 71 69 66,
208 R Evans (Eng) 68 72 68, J Hahn (USA) 71 69 68, S Wakefield (Eng) 69 69 70, G Porteous (Eng) 70 69 69,
209 D Im (USA) 67 70 72, S Tiley (Eng) 69 70 70, P Archer (Eng) 69 69 71, Rory McNamara (Irl) 69 74 66,
210 P Whiteford (Sco) 70 68 72, M Orrin (Eng) 70 70 70, J Dantorp (Swe) 69 71 70, S Soderberg (Swe) 72 69 69, S Manley (Wal) 67 76 67, M Schneider (Ger) 68 72 70,
211 H Porteous (RSA) 70 73 68, A Ahokas (Fin) 70 69 72, J Stalter (Fra) 70 69 72, Jonny Caldwell (Nir) 72 70 69, D Stewart (Sco) 69 74 68, D Huizing (Ned) 72 66 73, C Sordet (Fra) 72 67 72, S Fallon (Eng) 75 67 69, R Langasque (am) (Fra) 67 73 71,
212 Chris Selfridge (Nir) 70 71 71, Michael McGeady (Irl) 69 71 72, J Hansen (Den) 70 69 73, J Fahrbring (Swe) 71 72 69, S Griffiths (Eng) 70 71 71, M Søgaard (Den) 70 71 71,
213 J Huldahl (Den) 72 71 70, V Riu (Fra) 69 73 71, A Gee (Eng) 68 75 70, M Lafeber (Ned) 72 71 70, T Linard (Fra) 68 73 72,
214 Ruaidhri McGee (Irl) 70 71 73, S Walker (Eng) 69 71 74, Richard Kilpatrick (Nir) 67 73 74, C Ford (Eng) 71 69 74, H Joannes (Bel) 73 70 71, A McArthur (Sco) 71 70 73, L Gagli (Ita) 69 72 73, S Jeppesen (Swe) 72 70 72, D Law (Sco) 68 74 72,
215 T Sluiter (Ned) 71 71 73, A Bernadet (Fra) 71 71 73, J Sjöholm (Swe) 68 74 73,
216 B Virto Astudillo (Esp) 74 68 74, M Southgate (Eng) 68 74 74, J Mullen (Eng) 68 72 76, A Dunbar (Nir) 69 71 76,
217 S Brown (Eng) 72 70 75, Simon Thornton (Irl) 69 72 76, C Gloet (Den) 73 66 78,
218 J Winther (Den) 71 71 76,
219 N Geyger (Chi) 70 73 76,
220 F Andersson Hed (Swe) 73 69 78, G Murray (Sco) 71 72 77,
221 M Keyser (RSA) 70 72 79.