By Aaron Murphy
Conor Purcell. Photo by Golffile
Conor Purcell slipped back down the leaderboard after posting a one over par 71 at the Range Servant Challenge by Hinton Golf.
Purcell got off the perfect start with three birdies over the first four holes but dropped a shot on the par-5 eighth and made the turn on two under par.
The Dubliner birdied the 10th but dropped a shot on the par-4 10th before dropping three shots with a treble bogey on the par-4 13th.
The 23-year-old then parred his way home to finish on eight under par for the tournament and eight shots behind Scotland’s Craig Howie, who posted a bogey-free three under par round of 69.
The 26-year-old carded three birdies without dropping a shot to reach 16 under par, three strokes clear of Niklas Nørgaard Møller who sits in second place on 13 under par after carding a four under par round of 68 on moving day at Hinton Golf Club.
Howie has enjoyed a solid start to the 2021 Road to Mallorca campaign, with two top tens and a tie for 14th place in his first three starts, and he will go in search of his maiden European Challenge Tour title on the final day in Sweden.
“I’m really pleased,” he said. “I didn’t really have my A-game, I wasn’t at my best, but I grinded it out and I’m happy with the day.
Craig Howie. Photo by Golffile
“For the first four holes, I could barely feel my hands. We were waiting a lot, because of the weather, so I felt like I was doing a mini warm-up before every single shot I hit. It was hard to get any momentum going to start with, so you just had to grind, try and hit pars to start with, and then when the weather got a little bit better, it became a bit easier.
“Any lead’s a good lead to be honest, the more the better. A lot can change around this golf course, a lot of birdies can be made quite quickly, so I’ve got to be pretty good tomorrow.”
Denmark’s Møller has also experienced an impressive start to the season, earning one top ten in the South African Swing in addition to sharing 14th place at the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open with Howie, and he manoeuvred himself into contention with the joint-low round of the day at Hinton Golf Club.
“It was quite good fun,” he said. “It was a bit cold in the morning, but I quite like it when it’s a bit windy and cold. It’s what I’m used to.
“When I have a little bit of wind, I like to hold the shots into the wind so my approach game, my tee shots, were quite good. I struggled a little bit in the middle holes making putts, but I made a few birdies on the last holes, which was nice.
“I like where I am right now. Craig has a little bit of a cushion but the tournament doesn’t really start until the back nine tomorrow.”
Møller has a two-stroke cushion to Sweden’s Anton Karlsson and French duo Julien Brun and Edouard Dubois who all share third place on 11 under par, with a further nine players a shot further back on ten under par in a tie for sixth.