WHAT a difference a day makes. “It felt like summer to be honest,” suggested Richard Mansell with a smile after opening up a four-shot lead during round three of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Given that the conditions on Friday were as grim as a Victorian prison, anything was going to be an improvement. It was not quite tropical but on a breezy and bright day on the east coast, Mansell stayed on course for a mighty breakthrough.

The 27-year-old from Staffordshire has never won on the DP World Tour but he put in another performance of poise and purpose to inch towards a maiden triumph.

A five-under 67 at Carnoustie lifted him on to a 15-under total and gave him a handy cushion over the chasing trio of Alex Noren, Daniel Gavins and Ryan Fox.

In this unpredictable game of wildly fluctuating fortunes, of course, any lead can be as brittle as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Mansell, a winner on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour in 2019, is certainly not one for getting ahead of himself.

He has experience of being at the sharp end this season, having posted a fourth and two thirds on the main circuit, but being the man to catch in an event boasting a first prize of more than £760,000 is uncharted territory.

“I’ve had chances on Sundays and, as they say in golf, every time that you don’t win, you learn,” said Mansell, who has dropped just three shots in 54-holes at Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and St Andrews this week. “I feel like I’ve done that really well this year.

“There’s a lot of golf to play. And it’s links golf. Anything can happen. It’s St Andrews, people can shoot 60. I’m just really focused on myself right now. I’m going to try to shoot a good score and see where it puts me.”

Those behind him will be keen to come out with all guns blazing during the Sunday shoot-out. Rory McIlroy may be eight shots back in a share of 11th but the Northern Irishman has not given up hope.

The world No.2 put his second shot on the first hole into the water on the Old Course yesterday but mounted a charging salvage operation and posted a six-under 66 to move to seven under.

“It’s as easy as it can be right now, even in a 20 to 25 mile-an-hour wind,” he said. “If I could maybe shoot eight under and get to the 15-under number that Richard is on then at least you’d make him shoot under par. That would be a decent target.”

McIlroy was joined on that number by Irish veteran, and double Dunhill Links champion, Padraig Harrington as well as the Scottish duo of Connor Syme and Robert MacIntyre.

Syme’s neatly assembled seven-under 65 down the coast at Kingsbarns propelled him up 45 places to the fringes of the top 10. Holing a few putts makes all the difference in this pursuit of fine margins.

“The turnaround in my score was down to the putting,” said Syme, who had carded a 76 at Carnoustie during Friday’s meteorological misery. “I actually played well on Friday even though the conditions were awful but I kept leaving putts short. I went out to be more positive on the greens today and it made a big difference. It was a brilliant day.”

Syme’s chipper mood was in stark contrast to that of MacIntyre. The Oban man has stated many times that he simply does not get on with the Old Course and a 71, which included back-to-back bogeys at 16 and 17, just about led to him requesting relationship counselling.

“Just another great day on the Old Course,” he said with a withering snort. “It just doesn’t suit me. I couldn’t play this course if my life depended on it.”

One man who certainly enjoyed the Old Course was Belgian Ryder Cup player Thomas Pieters, who fired a rousing eight-under 64. He had opened with a 65 on Thursday but, sandwiched between these thrusting rounds, was a torrid 83 at Kingsbarns on Friday.

“I never thought I was going to make the cut after shooting 11 over,” said Pieters, who ended up making the 54-hole cut comfortably on a four-under total. “On Friday, I threw in the towel after 11 or 12 holes. Everything was wet. I couldn’t swing, couldn’t feel my hands. I didn’t think we should’ve been playing.”

What a difference a day makes eh?