Robert Rock, one of golf's old-timers in an age of young guns, almost touched history in his attempt to claim the European Tour's second ever sub-60 round, while Cormac Sharvin and Robin Dawson - two of those only starting out on the professional path - showed their own prowess on a riveting third day's play in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch Golf Club, where the crowds again flocked to the old Co Clare links.
Firstly, Rock. The Englishman - who 10 years ago lost a play-off to Shane Lowry, then an amateur, in this tournament when it was played at Baltray on the eastern shoreline - reaffirmed his affinity with the Irish Open when finishing with six straight birdies, his eagle putt on the 18th narrowly missing the hole, for a stunning 60, one short of Oliver Fisher's lowest score ever on the European Tour and setting the lowest ever in the long history of the tournament.
In truth, Rock's round came from nowhere. He's effectively a part-time tour professional these days, sharing his playing workload by coaching Matt Wallace among others, and his best performance so far this season was a tied-25th finish in the British Masters. At 147th in the Race to Dubai and ranked 333rd in the world, few saw this score coming.
His 60 gave him a 54-holes total of 13-under-par 197, a shot clear of Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello and England's Eddie Pepperell with South African Zander Lombard a shot further back in fourth.
“It’s the quality of the course, you have to hit good shots,” observed Rock afterwards of a round that saw him turn in 31, add a further birdie on the 10th and then a run of six straight birdies from the 13th. “It tests your driving and your iron play, it’s a great tournament, a tournament I would love to win. Maybe I have another chance to do it.”
Of his dual-jobbing, Rock (42) added: “I think it’s made me realise what type of golfer I am. Maybe I’m not as good as Matt Wallace, right, that’s pretty obvious, but I’ve learnt some things from him as to how he’s a really tough competitor and he’s desperate to win things. It’s made me think a lot about my golf in general and different styles of play, and it keeps me thinking.”
Rock heads into Sunday’s round having maneuvered his way to the top of the leaderboard, but with a host of pursuers all ready and willing to chase him down for the grand prize of a Rolex title and a €1 million payday.
Among those cast in the role of pursuers are Sharvin and Dawson, the last man into the field who benefited from a late sponsor’s invitation through the Team Ireland programme. The two invitees, who ply their trades primarily on the Challenge Tour, have more than vindicated their selections and head into the final round with the potential for career-defining performances.
Sharvin, the 26-year-old from Ardglass, Co Down, shot a third round 66 to move to nine-under-par 201 and a share of seventh place, while Dawson leapfrogged up the leaderboard with a stunning 66 in the morning rain to tied-14th on seven-under-par 203, an improvement of 39 places on his starting position.
“I have just really practiced to sticking to my process and that is what I have done for three days well, and just plan to stick to my process and take one shot at a time tomorrow. I just try to take it one shot at a time. I actually stood on the 14th tee and didn’t know what score I was. I think I probably got lost in taking it one shot at a time and that seemed to add up to a 66,” said Sharvin.
He added: “We all know in golf that anything can happen and I’m going to just try and keep doiong what I’ve been doing all week. If that comes with the trophy by the end of tomorrow then great, if it doesn’t we’ll just have to deal with it.”
The other significance of Sharvin’s performance is that a top 10 finish could earn him places in the 148th Open at Royal Portrush and next week’s Scottish Open, another Rolex Series event.
Sharvin and Dawson have actually shared a house through the week but have been like ships sailing in the night due to getting on different sides of the tee times. Dawson answered a 5am alarm call for his round, which saw him make a huge upward move.
The 23-year-old Waterford player, just nine months into his professional career, was originally due to be playing a Challenge Tour event this week - with a purse of €200,000 - until a potential career-changing ‘phone call, as he prepared to take a flight from Rome to Senica, informed him of his late call-up into the €6 million tournament that is part of the elite Rolex Series on the European Tour.
Dawson earned his place in the field after Gavin Moynihan booked his place in the tournament through his tour category. And Dawson has made the most of what he called his “little break,” as he holed a 15-footer for birdie on the 18th green in Friday’s second round to ensure surviving the cut and then followed up with a brilliant bogey-free 64 in the rain in Saturday’s third round, jumping up 50 places to tied-third by the time he finished.
“I had my flight booked onto Slovakia for the next Challenge Tour event, I was pretty happy to leave that one go. Rang Gavin to see if he got in automatically because I knew the next Team Ireland invite, I was next on the list so I knew it would go back to me. You need those little breaks as well, everybody has got them,” he explained of the circumstances which led to him playing here.
Dawson - an equine business graduate of NUI Maynooth, who was runner-up in last year’s British Amateur and European Strokeplay championships prior to turning professional - has been playing primarily on the Challenge Tour this season but has taken his chance to compete on the big stage.
“I’m really happy with where my game is at, I’ve been working hard the last few months and it is nice to see the results pay off,” said Dawson.
Who knows what can happen? Remember, 10 years ago a young amateur outdueled Rock for the grand prize. A decade on, Rock is again part of the drama. Eerie, a little bit eerie.
Collated third round scores in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Lahinch GC, Ireland (Gbr & Irl unless stated, par 70):
197 Robert Rock 67 70 60
198 Eddie Pepperell 65 67 66, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 68 67 63
199 Zander Lombard (Rsa) 64 67 68
200 Andy Sullivan 68 66 66, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 69 66 65
201 Cormac Sharvin 66 69 66, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 65 70 66
202 Paul Waring 67 68 67, Oliver Wilson 66 69 67, Jon Rahm (Spa) 67 71 64, Jorge Campillo (Spa) 69 64 69, Grant Forrest 71 66 65
203 Robin Dawson 68 71 64, Niklas Lemke (Swe) 68 66 69, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 65 69 69, Brandon Stone (Rsa) 67 67 69, Wade Ormsby (Aus) 65 69 69, George Coetzee (Rsa) 70 67 66, Gavin Green (Mal) 66 72 65, Edoardo Molinari (Ita) 68 68 67
204 Abraham Ancer (Mex) 66 67 71, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 66 70 68, Lee Westwood 66 67 71
205 Haotong Li (Chn) 68 68 69, Joakim Lagergren (Swe) 67 71 67, Russell Knox 67 68 70, Oliver Fisher 67 69 69
206 Adri Arnaus (Spa) 68 68 70, Hyo-won Park (Kor) 65 69 72, Tommy Fleetwood 67 69 70, Andres Romero (Arg) 68 70 68
207 Chris Paisley 65 72 70, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 68 70 69, Max Schmitt (Ger) 70 68 69, Sebastian Soderberg (Swe) 67 68 72, Alejandro Canizares (Spa) 68 69 70, Robert Macintyre 66 69 72, Thomas Detry (Bel) 70 68 69, Nino Bertasio (Ita) 70 68 69
208 Anton Karlsson (Swe) 67 72 69, Richard McEvoy 71 68 69, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 71 67 70, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spa) 69 70 69, Shane Lowry 66 72 70, Ian Poulter 66 73 69, Lorenzo Gagli (Ita) 68 70 70, Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn) 69 68 71, Bradley Dredge 72 67 69
209 Matt Wallace 68 68 73, Clement Sordet (Fra) 71 68 70, Benjamin Hebert (Fra) 71 67 71, Sam Brazel (Aus) 68 71 70, Padraig Harrington 63 73 73, Seamus Power 70 66 73, Lee Slattery 65 74 70, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 72 67 70
211 Alexander Bjork (Swe) 72 67 72, Victor Perez (Fra) 70 68 73, Jack Singh Brar 70 69 72, Jacques Kruyswijk (Rsa) 67 72 72
212 Tom Lewis 68 68 76, Jeff Winther (Den) 72 67 73
214 Marcus Kinhult (Swe) 67 70 77, Liam Johnston 68 70 76
215 Lucas Herbert (Aus) 70 68 77