The 2015 European Challenge Tour season is set for the most enthralling of finales as five players share the lead heading into the final day of the season-closing NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, after a moving day in which the high winds produced some incredible golfing drama. Englishmen Callum Shinkwin and James Robinson, Sweden’s Jens Dantorp, Dane Joachim B Hansen and Nacho Elvira of Spain were all tied at the top on seven par after the leading score fell by four shots in a blustery third round at Almouj Golf, The Wave.
With so much at stake for the 45 players in the field – chasing the top 15 Road to Oman Rankings spots which earn European Tour graduation – the morning seemed to pass without much incident but as the day began to develop, the breeze grew ever stronger.
Suddenly, a spate of bogeys and double-bogeys began to filter through on the leaderboard as the gusts on the stunning coastal course overlooking the Gulf of Oman began to play havoc, although American John Hahn did buck the trend with a hole-in-one at the par three eighth hole.
With five players at the summit and 15 more within five shots of the lead, the race for European Tour promotion will come to a fittingly thrilling conclusion and Dantorp, for one, is not the kind of player to try and avoid the leaderboard. Indeed, he is hoping the massive pressure will push him on to success in Muscat.
“I was looking at the leaderboards all the time,” said the 26 year old, who was 30th in the Road to Oman Rankings heading into the final tournament of the year. “I don’t mind looking at the scores, I think it’s actually nice to see my name up there and try to get as high up as possible.
“This is a special week as well because I need to do something really big to try to get my European Tour card, I think I need to finish alone in third.
“This week is one of the weeks where you really have to look at the leaderboards to know what’s going on, so I’m now going to go home and reload for tomorrow and hopefully keep climbing up there at the top.
“The wind made it really tough today. We played the first two rounds in the opposite wind, it was a helping wind on more of the tough holes, but today it was a lot tougher.
“I played really solid until 17 when I unfortunately made a double-bogey but it happens. I need to do more of the same tomorrow, keep doing my thing, and then we’ll see what happens during the round and if I need to do something special on the last few holes, but I’m just going to try to do what I do.”
Shinkwin, meanwhile, is the youngest of the five leaders, but he has benefitted from the experience of a caddie – David McNeilly – who is one of the most experienced in the game, having carried the bag for players such as Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington.
“I’m quite a relaxed person as it is, so I’ll just try not to think about it,” said the 22 year old, who also needs a high finish having started the week in 30th position in the Road to Oman. “I’ll look at the scores at the end of the day and hopefully come out tomorrow and play good golf again.
“I have a really good caddie on the bag and we have a really good laugh together, we’re all smiles out there and just making joked. Once it comes down to go time on every shot, it’s go time.
“I played in Sweden during the year and had two European Tour events in a row, taking a break from Challenge Tour, and I managed to poach him through my management company, because he used to work with Matteo Manassero.
“Ever since then, he’s wanted to stick with me, he saw some talent – I don’t know where from but he saw it – and I’ve managed to keep him.”
Hansen and Robinson are both also playing for a strong finish to climb into the all-important top 15 as they stand at 17th and 43rd in the Road to Oman, respectively.
Only one of the third round leaders, Elvira, entered this week occupying a top 15 position in the Road to Oman and, ironically, the Spaniard is under no pressure whatsoever in Oman, having secured his place on The Race to Dubai earlier this year thanks to three victories this season on the Challenge Tour.
Ricardo Gouveia, the Road to Oman leader, was one of three players a shot off the lead on six under par – alongside South African Brandon Stone and England’s Ryan Evans – as the Portuguese attempts to consolidate his place in the Rankings and be crowned Challenge Tour Number One.
However, with further windy conditions expected in the afternoon on Saturday, as many as 30 players may well fancy their chances of claiming victory in the Omani capital.