Oliver Wilson played and talked like a Ryder Cup player in waiting today – but Nick Dougherty is poised for one last bid to catch him.
The two young guns shot 68 and 69 respectively in the third round of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and that means the year-long race for places in Nick Faldo’s team goes to the final day.
While Frenchman Gregory Havret stayed out in front in the tournament – a closing birdie gave him a 69 and took him to 11 under par, one in front of England’s Anthony Wall – Wilson and Dougherty had their own agendas.
Wilson, who had been on the brink of despair when he stood at six over par after eight holes on Friday, continued a superb comeback to reach three under and joint 25th with a round to go.
But Dougherty, who needs to finish second to have a chance, is tied for 16th on five under and, by his own reckoning, a closing 66 could yet bring him a first cap just four months after his mother died of a heart attack.
“I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m delighted to still have a sniff,” said the 26-year-old Liverpudlian. “Ollie’s favourite, but I’ll see if I can make him sweat a bit.
“It’s a big day. The culmination of a year’s worth of golf comes down to one day.
“I played wonderfully today and made nothing. The longest putt was the five-footer on the last.”
That was for his fifth birdie, but once again the greens on the 2014 Ryder Cup course gave everyone nightmares.
Dougherty added: “I played like eight or nine under golf, not four under. I needed a good score to keep the dream alive and I achieved that. But I need a great one tomorrow.”
Wilson is still in the driving seat and is odds-on to be cracking open the champagne with Justin Rose, Dane Soren Hansen and the two players given wild cards by captain Faldo tomorrow night.
If Dougherty does get to second place on his own Wilson will still edge him out of the team if he finishes 27th.
Rose and Hansen, eighth and ninth in the standings, are eighth and third respectively in the event and are going great guns.
European Open champion Ross Fisher looked to have fallen out of contention when a 73 kept him at level par and dropped him to 46th. He requires a top-three finish.
Last year’s Scottish Open champion Havret lost the lead he has held since an opening 68 when he double-bogeyed the 15th, but then birdied the 543-yard 16th and 533-yard 18th.
Londoner Wall, whose only Tour victory came in South Africa in 2000, matched the low round of the week with his 65 to put Hansen, Lee Westwood, David Howell, German Marcel Siem and Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez joint third.
Wilson, in the hot seat of 10th on the points table entering the last counting event, made the halfway cut with nothing to spare.
Then, despite a near-sleepless night, he showed he was much more relaxed as he continued his bid to become the first player to make the European Ryder Cup side without winning a professional tournament.
“I was so tired first thing, though,” he admitted. “I put so much into the first two days, but then woke up around 2am wide awake.
“I got back to sleep about 5.30am and then woke up again at six. But I played nicely and I’m in a good position now.”
In the separate scrap for Faldo’s wild cards Colin Montgomerie’s hopes are hanging by a thread after a 76 for one over. There were only three worse scores all day.
Darren Clarke, who may well have done enough with his win in Holland last week, four-putted the long 12th for a double-bogey seven and finished one under.
Clarke and Paul Casey, playing in America, are the two favourites.
Wilson is looking forward to a rest almost as much as he is looking forward to making the team.
“I want to get fresh,” he added. “I’m not thinking as clearly as I should.
“It’s all a bit of fatigue. I’ve put a lot of effort into the last few months, especially the last two weeks.”