The storylines – like the birdies – just keep on coming at the Oates Victorian Open.
Pre-tournament fancy Jason Scrivener leads by a shot at 14 under after a rain and storm-affected third round at 13th Beach, but he has nine players within three shots on a leaderboard jam-packed with incredible tales.
There’s Nick Cullen, at -13 the most likely challenger, is suddenly a veteran with his Australian Masters triumph the beacon for many of the rising stars around him.
He’s alongside Ben Eccles, the less heralded but supremely talented member of a group of emerging amateurs who is not only keen to set that straight, but also to win in his back yard on the Bellarine Peninsula.
At 12 under is arguably the best story of them all – amateur Ryan Ruffels. The Golf Australia national squad player has the world at his feet, has made just one bogey in two days and, oh yeah, he’s still 16.
And then there are six blokes at 11 under including another amateur, Andrew Schonewille, man mountain Dimitrios Papadatos fresh from a 66 and the much-loved veteran Richard Green, who peeled off another 67 only to be upstaged by his fiancée Marianne Skarpnord who leads the concurrent women’s event as the pair move into a house on the course.
Need we say more?
Scrivener, of Perth, was the big winner from a lightning-enforced 75-minute delay mid-afternoon, immediately canning a key putt on the ninth when play resumed as one of five late birdies after a sluggish start.
“It was very scrappy the first nine holes, I was just grinding it out, (but) I played well on the back nine,” the newly minted European Tour player said.
“I think the delay really helped me as well, I re-set, hit a few balls (on the range) and made a few putts.
“I just sat down and watched a bit of the golf, I had about a five-footer on nine, that was an important putt and I holed that, then I played well.”
Eccles led for much of the back nine, but three-putted the par-five last as those around him surged.
“I’m thrilled to have stuck to my game plan, holed a couple of putts and walked off with a 68,” said the nearby Torquay Sands member whose on-course calmness belied his excitement at his position tomorrow in the final group.
“I’m speechless to be honest. I went into the week wanting to be in contention and that’s exactly where I am – I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait for tomorrow … and to play with Nick (Cullen) again.
“It’s a great pairing for me and he’s obviously been in that situation before, so I think I’ll feed off him a fair bit.”
Ruffels will again be grouped with Green and 2012 champ Scott Arnold, the trio who combined to shoot a phenomenal 16 under par today.
The world junior champ started on 10 with a birdie, made his only bogey in the past two rounds on the 11th with a short missed putt, then nearly holed out on the par-three 12th before settling in to card a 66 that belies his tender years.
“From there I played really good golf – hit a lot of greens and made a lot of putts, pretty much stress-free,” said Ruffels, whose ball-striking on Friday drew superlatives from several onlookers.
“It could have been anything yesterday, it was probably even better than today, but I got the putter working a little more today. Each day I’m just getting a little bit better and hopefully it continues tomorrow.”
Ruffels said he prided himself on playing well under pressure and couldn’t wait to test that theory in the mix of a big professional event for the first time.
“I’ve played OK in pro events, some big ones, but never really been in contention, so this will be the first one. We’ll have a crack and see how it goes.
“I enjoy (the pressure). If you’re going to be a good golfer, there’s going to be plenty of it, it’s just something that I’m getting used to now.
“It’s all good stuff, it doesn’t really bother me – I’ll just step out there tomorrow and do everything I need to. I don’t think it will affect me.
Green, whose week has included moving into a new house and having an albatross, the vision of which has gone viral, backed up yesterday’s par round with a 67 more akin to his opening 66.
But even he was impressed with the composure and abilities of Ruffels.
"He's a very good player, he's going to be hard to beat if he gets it going like he did today. It's going to take a good solid round of golf to get in front of him, that's for sure,” Green said of his fellow Victorian.
"At 16, that’s pretty impressive. I think I was still battling around Kooringal (at that age) trying to work a handicap out,” he joked.
VICTORIAN OPEN LEADERBOARDS
-14 Jason Scrivener (WA)
-13 Ben Eccles (Vic, am)
Nick Cullen (SA)
-12 Ryan Ruffels (Vic, am)
-11 Richard Green (Vic)
Andrew Schonewille (Vic, am)
Dimitrios Papadatos (NSW)
Mitchell Brown (NSW)
Matt Millar (ACT)
Scott Arnold (NSW)
-13 Marianne Skarpnord (NOR)
-10 Holly Clyburn (ENG)
-9 Su-hyun Oh (Vic)
-8 Shelly Shin (NSW, am)
Sally Watson (Sco)
-7 Ellie Givens (ENG)
Sophie Walker (ENG)