James Byrne of Scotland revived his hopes of securing an Asian Tour card with a rare albatross at the penultimate round of the Asian Tour Qualifying School Final Stage presented by Sports Authority of Thailand on Friday.
Byrne, a two-time Asian Development Tour (ADT) winner, fired the first albatross in his professional career on the par five, 518 yards 12th hole at the Springfield Royal Golf Club when his six-iron approach from 200 yards found the bottom of the cup. It was the 18th albatross in Asian Tour history and the first since 2011.
Byrne, who merely made the halfway cut, was delighted to haul himself back in contention for an Asian Tour card after signing for a three-under-par 68 to sit in tied-26th position, 10 shots back of leader Daniel Chopra of Sweden, who posted a 67 to lead on 12-under-par 202 total.
American John Catlin returned with the day’s lowest score of 65 to trail by one in second place while Australian Paul Spargo stayed a further shot back in third following a 70.
South African Shaun Norris (67) and Sweden’s Niclas Johansson (69) settled for fourth and fifth place respectively while a host of nine players shared sixth place on 208.
“I had a great start. I had an albatross on the 12th which was my second hole today. We couldn’t really see the pin but the marshal signaled that the ball went in. So yes, Albatross! It’s the very first one I made in my professional career,” said an upbeat Byrne.
“There was not much wind in the morning so it was pretty much an advantage. I followed up with a few more birdies after the albatross and turned in nicely. I didn’t play as well on my back nine which is the front nine but I know the first nine holes are tougher on this course so I’m still happy to shoot a 68 today,” added the 26-year-old.
Chopra, a two-time PGA Tour champion and a one-time winner on the Asian Tour, rode on a hot putter for a creditable round.
“I didn’t play as well as I did the first two days from tee to green but my putter was amazing today. It was almost perfect. I made everything I needed to make. I hit a lot of good shots and I also hit a lot of bad shots which was strange but I managed to save them with my short game,” said the 41-year-old Swede, who needed only 24 putts.
“I am happy with how I stand right now. I gave myself a good cushion to get my card but you never know what will happen. Today was a bit shaky but I still managed to come through and put the score up there. It will be great if I can top the class but if the plan didn’t work as well tomorrow, I will have to at least try and get my card,” added Chopra.
India’s Angad Cheema is ready for the final push as he put himself in a favorable position heading into the all-important final round of the Qualifying School where the top-40 and ties will earn an Asian Tour card for the 2015 season after the final round.
“I came in with very little expectations because I know the more pressure you put on yourself, the worse it will get. It’s been pretty good for me so far this week. I just want to play well tomorrow and not think too much. I haven’t done anything special before coming here. I just treat it like any other regular tournaments,” said the 24-year-old Indian, who mixed his card with one eagle, five birdies and four bogeys.
All Qualifying School entrants will be eligible to compete on the burgeoning ADT, which was inaugurated in 2010 as a gateway to the premier Asian Tour. The secondary circuit staged a record total of 21 tournaments in the 2014 season.
With the Olympic Games looming in 2016 where golf will be reintroduced as a medal sport, players in the region could earn their spots in Rio de Janeiro by earning Official World Golf Ranking points through the Asian Tour and ADT.
Leading third round scores:
202 – Daniel CHOPRA (SWE) 68-67-67
203 – John CATLIN (USA) 66-72-65
204 – Paul SPARGO (AUS) 65-69-70
205 – Shaun NORRIS (RSA) 68-70-67
207 – Niclas JOHANSSON (SWE) 68-70-69
208 – Phiphatphong NAEWSUK (THA) 71-69-68, KIM Gi-whan (KOR) 68-71-69, Angar CHEEMA (IND) 69-71-68, LEE Sung (KOR) 73-65-70, Peter EROFEJEFF (FIN) 70-67-71, Himmat RAI (IND) 70-67-71, Danthai BOONMA (THA) 65-71-72, LEE Chieh-po (TPE) 67-69-72, Chikka S (IND) 66-66-76