LITTLE-KNOWN American Peter Oakley will take a one shot lead into the final round of the £1,000,000 Senior British Open after a day when the windy conditions and the course proved the winner at Royal Portrush yesterday.
The diminutive 54-year-old shot a third round 73 to lead on two under, one ahead of fellow American Don Pooley (74) and Zimbabwe-born Mark McNulty (74), who now competes as an Irish citizen.
"Not in my wildest dreams did I expect to be in this position going into the final day of a major, " enthused the club professional from the Rookery Golf Club in a Delaware resort in Arizona.
"The wind was just horrendous out there just as the carnage on the leaderboard illustrated. But I'm used to these conditions as you get four seasons in one day here, just like back home." "It's unusual but I'm glad to be here, " added Oakley who has little playing credentials coming into this event. In fact he had to pre-qualify for the event at nearby Portstewart Golf Club last week. Despite such anonymity he was unfazed about playing alongside two former Ryder Cup captains in Mark James (74) and Tom Kite (74) ? both of whom he outplayed by a shot.
James and Kite remain two behind on level par.
The same cannot be said for defending champion Tom Watson who needs a minor miracle if he's to come back from seven over after his 74.
Pre-tournament favourite Eduardo Romero could still feature after his 74 left the Argentine two over.
Ireland's Des Smyth defied the elements and was one of only two players to break par alongside England's David Russell (70). The 51-year-old made great strides and into a tie for 10th with his 71 over the Dunluce links.
"That was a very good score, I played as well as I could have out there considering that's the toughest it's been all week, " said Smyth, who climbed into a tie for 10th on five over going into today.
"Breaking par was pretty special and if I can do that again tomorrow, not only will it help my confidence, but I should move up the field." "I'll be trying hard because I need a high finish this week and a good end to the season to keep my card, " added the Drogheda man, who is currently 44th on the Champions Tour money list and needs to make the top 30.
Fintona's Paul Leonard shot a battling 74 to be 10 over while Corkman Denis O'Sullivan is two shots further back after his 77. Eamonn Darcy's horrendous 81 meant he dropped way off the pace at 14 over. For the second day running the Druids Glen professional failed to make a single birdie on the Dunluce links.
Picking up shots hasn't been a problem for Australia's Graham Marsh (72), at least not at the 170-yard par three 11th. The 60-year-old, remarkably, had his second hole-inone of the week there, a feat reckoned by Paddy Powers to be a 40,000/1 shot.