The skies were leaden and stormy atmosphere ominous, but somebody forgot to tell the Australian Master of the Amateurs field today as they tore apart Royal Melbourne.
In rare still conditions, Zach Murray led from the front with a superb 67 to race to 11 under overall, two shots clear of playing partner and good mate Frazer Droop (68) after round three.
But remarkably, neither completely cleared out from the world-class field with the top 13 players combining to shoot an incredible 57 shots better than par on a course renowned for its summer teeth.
If it’s possible to upstage a leader who hit all bar one green and was almost immune to the pressure, that honour belonged to Sydneysider Cameron Davis.
Davis, a Golf Australia national squad member with enormous potential, joined Tom Crow with the West Course’s club record after a stellar 63 to vault from five over to four under and into a tie for eighth.
Even more amazing is that his eight birdies and an eagle were blemished by a bogey on the shortish par-five fourth when his tee shot left into trees forced a second shot just to be bumped clear.
Queenslander Jake McLeod fired a ripping 66 to join Ben Eccles (68) in a tie for third at -8, but even that could have been better with a double-bogey up the last costing him outright second place.
First-round leader Eccles, of Torquay, continued his stellar play and leapt back into contention with an eagle on the 15th to go one clear of his playing partner Cory Crawford (69).
But it was Murray who impressed seasoned onlookers with his composure and outstanding course management.
He pulled an iron off the tee into trouble left of the third fairway and took a bogey, but hit each of the other 17 greens in regulation and barring a handful of putts that sat on the edge, the tournament could have been in his keeping.
But Murray, 17, said he would “have jumped at that score” if offered to him before the round.
“I’d have walked away for sure,” the laconic Wodonga star said.
“I couldn’t have driven the ball or hit my irons any better. I left a few putts out there, but that’s Royal Melbourne.
“I’m absolutely stoked to have done that.
“I’ve become more positive. Big credit to Paul Skinner, Golf Australia’s course management guy – he caddied for me at the Australian Open and it was the real eye opener to me that you don’t need to take driver everywhere.
“I’ve hit five drivers out there in three rounds. I’ve taken the risk out of everything and my … course management has gone through the roof.”
Murray, using his failure to qualify to defend his Vic Amateur title as motivation, said playing with Droop had been a great way to steady any nerves he had leading a major 72-hole event for the first time.
“We basically went out there and played — we had one bogey between us and were never in trouble. We just cruised around and it was fantastic,” he said.
“It was great and will really help us both again tomorrow, I hope.”
Droop was equally impressive and also left a handful of putts on the edge that would have slashed his score even further.
“I left a couple short in the heart and a couple went just past the edge that could have dropped, but you can’t get too angry on these greens,” the Yarrawonga ace said.
“But you can’t get too angry on these greens because you’ll rip it well past really quickly.
“I’m hitting it the best I have for a while – so I’m happy to have had that (score) in the (last group).”
Droop concurred the easy nature of the group, including Andrew Schonewille (70 to be seven under overall), made the day less tense.
“We talked about a lot of things out there and not many of them were golf,” he joked.
“It’s great to be able to do that with your mates and put together a decent round while you’re doing it.”
Leading the other Golf Australia national squad contingent was Crawford, who also couldn’t tame his putter but is well in the hunt.
Lucas Herbert bounced back with a 69 after his second-round 76 to be two under overall, while Ryan Ruffels had a 72 to stay two over.
Antonio Murdaca fired an even-par 72 to be three over, while Brett Coletta hit back with a 70 to be five over.
The final round begins at 8am on Friday.