DENMARK’S Benjamin Poke extended his lead to two shots on day three of European Tour Qualifying School as the six-round marathon tournament reached the halfway stage.
The Dane, who completed a strong rookie season on the European Challenge Tour, carded four birdies and only one bogey to sign for a three-under par 69 on Lumine Golf Club’s Hills Course.
Poke said: “It was nice to finish with a flurry of birdies at the end. I was hitting greens from the start but leaving myself some long putts.
“By the time I got to the back nine I was striking them better and hitting my approach shots a bit closer – and I managed to take advantage of that over the closing holes.
“I haven’t really looked at the scoreboards this week or checked online after the round to see how I’m doing and I’ve been watching snooker over the last few days in the evening to take my mind off things.
“It’s a new day tomorrow so I’m just going to try and approach things the same way – enjoy being out here playing,” said Poke, who finished 29th on the Road to Mallorca.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and playing the next few days. I’m trying not to think about the top 25 at the moment as I can’t control what other players are doing.
“I can only try and control how I play and we’ll see where it all ends up at the end of the week,” Poke added.
The 27-year-old began the day sharing the lead, but finished with two late birdies to reach a three-round total of 12-under – two shots clear of his nearest competitor Lars van Meijel.
The Dutchman, who also narrowly missed out on graduating to the European Tour after finishing 19th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca, converted six birdies and made an eagle-two on the Hills Course’s par four 12th hole.
Van Meijel signed for a seven-under 65 to move 39 places up the leaderboard in the race to catch Poke.
“I had a really bad start yesterday and then played pretty decent,” said Lars van Meijel.
“Today, I played alright. My wedges were really good and I putted pretty well, but from the tee I was a bit shaky.
“I had a couple of good bounces as well. Overall my irons were pretty decent, especially my wedges and my putting was also really good.
“It’s the first time I’ve played in Final Stage and it’s absurd to think there are still three rounds to go. I’ll just keep playing one shot at a time – keep it relaxed and chilled, and then we’ll see.
“I feel confident. I’m just focussing on myself and trying to play the best golf I can. Then we’ll see where I end up.
“I made some small changes in the way I practice with a new coach and also, my childhood technical coach has made some small changes which have also clicked. I’m just trying to get better every day.”
Sharing third place on nine-under are India’s SSP Chawrasia and overnight joint-leader Toby Tree, from Sussex.
The field at the Final Stage of Qualifying School competes on both the Hills and Lakes courses.
With the leading half all playing the Hills Course on day three, they will now take to the Lakes Course for the all-important fourth round, where the field is reduced to the top 70 and ties.
The low round of the tournament was carded by two players on day three,
Staffordshire’s Will Enefer and Australian David Micheluzzi, who were paired together on the Lakes Course, both fired eight under 63s – and they both moved into a share of 62nd place on two-under.
Enefer, who has had a consistent season on the EuroPro Tour withouth converting some good displays with a victory, said: “The first two days I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard.
“I was just looking at the playing zone. But after today it has completely changed everything, so I am really pleased.
“My playing partner David was also eight-under which helped as well,” added Enefer, who plays out of Enville GC.
“I was hitting quite a few inside his and he was holing in first so I was like: ‘I can’t let him keep going lower and I’m not.’
“So I followed him in and we kept bouncing off of each other.”
Micheluzzi was equally pleased with the outcome, saying: “I was really happy with today’s round.
“I holed zero putts the first few days but felt like they all dropped today to bring myself back within the cut line, and I’m just happy to be back in the mix after a disappointing first few days.
“I had nothing to lose after a disappointing first couple of rounds and so I just went out there and started firing at some pins and managed to hole some putts as well.”
That two-under total also stands as the current projected cut line.
Any player surviving the 72-hole cut will be guaranteed a European Challenge Tour card as they battle it out on the Lakes Course over the final two days.
A spot in the top 25 including ties will secure a potentially life-changing European Tour card.
•For live scoring in the fourth round at Lumine GC, click here.