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Open hopefuls have it all to do as heavens prove no help

WHOEVER earns the coveted place in next year's Open at the end of the European Amateur Championship will have done it the hard way after torrential rain, thunder and lightning forced the abandonment of the third round at the Duke's course in soggy St Andrews last night.

It's going to be a tough shift for those involved in the title tussle today.

The leading groups had still not reached the turn when the decision was taken to call a halt to proceedings and they will now have to put in a stint of overtime to get the remainder of the holes shoe-horned in.

The day had dawned bright and balmy but by afternoon things had turned increasingly dark and dismal. The thunder rumbled menacingly and when the heavens finally creaked open, the rain came tumbling down in saturating abundance. The drookit Duke's course looked more like Atlantis Municipal. The gallant greenkeepers got the squeedgees out but while they could sweep away the watery excess, there is no such tool for removing the threat of lightning way up yonder and it continued to lurk around in the vicinity. "There was no immediate improvement with lighting still in the area," said Daniel Sommerville, the events manager with the Scottish Golf Union.

The klaxon was initially sounded at 4.30pm. Some 88 players had completed their third rounds but 18 groups were still out on the course and play was finally halted for the day just before 6pm. At least the officials could get themselves wrung dry and dressed up in time for the serving of the canapes at last night's championship dinner. Play was set to resume at the crack of dawn this morning with the fourth and final round, involving three-balls in a two-tee start, was scheduled to commence around 11am. It was shaping up to be a tight finish in one of the amateur game's major championships, which offers that sought after spot in golf's most celebrated Major back in St Andrews next July.

Irishman Gary Hurley was leading the way with a three-under tally when play was stopped, with Renato Paratore and Lauri Ruuska sitting just a shot back and defending champion Ashley Chesters a further stroke away. Dollar's Scott Borrowman, just a shot off the pace at the halfway stage, saw his title tilt suffer an early blow when he opened with a double-bogey on the first hole of his third round and leaked another shot on the third.

Prior to the abandonment, the breezy conditions had provided plenty of mischief and only four players in the top 36 were under par for their rounds.

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