IT was a day of contrasting emotions for the North-East contingent at European Senior Tour qualifying school yesterday – with Darlington’s Roger Roper in sight of securing a full card for 2014.
While Eaglescliffe pro Graeme Bell struggled his way around his third round to post a 74 and Matfen Hall’s John Harrison delivered a second 76 in three days, Roper took centre stage in Portugal.
After an opening two rounds of 72 and 70 on the Silva Course at the luxurious Pestana Golf Resort in the Algarve, Roper carded a second one-under 70 yesterday to hit today’s final 18 holes sitting fifth on one under.
And while he is seven shots adrift of overnight leader Steve Cipa, the County Durham golfer is nicely placed to earn one of the top six places that would secure full playing privileges on the Senior Tour this year.
But Roper is trying to stay calm and would rather focus on closing the gap to Upminster’s Cipa to keep his mind focused on the task at hand.
He said: “The aim on Thursday is top spot. If I concentrate on that then it is better than worrying about sixth position.
“I just have to take my time with it and hopefully I can stay in and around there. I will stick to my game plan, doing what I do.”
Roper’s third round included bogeys at the third and 16th but birdies at seven, ten and 12 have laid the foundations for some end of day excitement.
Despite qualifying for both the Senior Open and the ISPS Handa PGS Seniors Championships in each of the last two years, the 51-year-old has not held a full card since stepping on to the Senior Tour.
“The top six is the ultimate aim this week, of course it is,” said Roper, who is attached to Rockliffe Hall.
“But I have played a lot of the guys before on Tour and, while exciting, it not’s life changing to me because the Senior Tour would not be a huge time commitment. “I have a fair bit of experience at this level and I just want to build on that. I am still improving as a player.
“I putted much better this week and hopefully I can find a bit more improvement. I would be delighted to score another 70 on Thursday.”
With his home club, Rockliffe, due to host the English Senior Open for the second successive year in the summer, he would love to have a guaranteed spot rather than bank on a sponsors call.
That is the same situation likely to be facing Bell, who never felt like he got going yesterday – in fact he has not felt he has got going at all over the last 12 months.
The likeable Hartlepool golfer sits on five over going in to the final day’s play, three shots better off than Harrison, and is facing a tough fight to secure one of the conditional cards handed out for places seven to 14.
Bell had a disastrous opening nine holes. He bogeyed the second, fourth, fifth and eighth. Despite claiming a couple of shots back at nine and 12, he then bogeyed the last. As he reflected on his round afterwards, he was far from happy.
“I played like a 12-handicapper and got round in five-over,” said Bell, who turns 51 in April.
“I can’t remember hitting any good shots. I am being a bit critical, but if it was not for my chipping and putting I could have been 15 or 16 over.
“I don’t know why. I have had that for a full year now. I don’t seem to be able to hit the ball properly. I have been trying to improve my swing. It’s just the same when I get on the course.
“I have one more round to play and that could be it for six weeks. I have had enough. You do get sick after a while. At my age I will just give myself a rest. I don’t want to sound more depressed than I normally am!”
Bell’s nightmare started on the early on. He said: “I was right behind the tree on the second. Then I hit a shot right on line with the flag on the pin at the 18th.
“It stopped short, I putted it in and hit something in the fringe and jumped in the air and then I missed.
“I would have to go low on the last day to get near. Based on the last year’s track record, it would be a miracle if it happened. I don’t really believe in miracles.”