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PHOTO: Hugh Foley, one of the joint leaders - Image by Cashman Photography
LIVE SCORINGTEE TIMES
Royal Dublin's Foley fired the joint-best round of the day – a six-under par 66 – to head the field at one-under before Galway Bay's Hickey birdied the last in a round of 71 to join the Dubliner at the head of affairs.
No stranger to the Sandy Hills course at Rosapenna, Foley produced a stunning second round performance that included five birdies and an eagle on Saturday.
"I watched Gary [Ward] play yesterday and he made it look easy so I just played it simple off the tee, hit one driver, and my long irons were really good today," said Foley, who revealed Rosapenna to be a bit of a second home for the links specialist.
"I love links golf," he added. "My coach Geoff Loughrey has been bringing us up here for the last four years so I know this track really well, it's definitely an advantage."
Hickey carded five birdies of his own but also four dropped shots in a most-welcomed upturn in his fairway fortunes.
"If you had told me before the week that I was going to be one under after 36 holes, I'd have thought you were mad," said Hickey.
Now joint-top in his bid to etch his name on one Ireland's most prestigious trophies, Hickey is refusing to get ahead of himself.
"I haven't really thought about winning yet," he added. "There are still 18 holes to go, and there are a lot of good lads in the field, so we will see how it goes tomorrow."
Among the chasing pack is Baltinglass teenager Joseph Byrne who joined Foley in taking just 66 strokes to the Rosapenna clubhouse to trail by only two shots at one-over.
"I played well, didn't miss many greens and started holing putts towards the middle of the round," Byrne said of four straight birdies from the ninth to the 12th that contributed to his lowest round of the year.
"It was tricky today but nothing compared to Friday. Yesterday was outrageous – it was fair but so tough."
Asked of the significance of a potential win this week, Byrne didn't hesitate: "It would be the biggest win of my career."
Bridgestone battle heating up
After the final round on Sunday, the 2020 Bridgestone Order of Merit winner will be crowned and with 130-points awarded to this week's champion, it really is all to play for with a round to go at Rosapenna.
Points are awarded to the top-20 and ties this week with current leader, Alan Fahy (240 points) just outside the places in a share of 21st at nine-over.
Holding a significant 60-point lead coming into the tournament, the Dun Laoghaire ace recovered from an opening round of 81 with a second day even par effort to ensure the fate of this year's Order of Merit title remains in his control on Sunday.
Carton House's Marc Boucher has emerged as a major player in the race to the chequered flag, however, after joining Byrne in a tie for third at one-over par.
Lying fourth on the Bridgestone board with 148-points, Boucher fired five birdies in a three-under par round of 69 and if Fahy was to finish outside the top-20 on Sunday, Boucher knows that a tied fourth result or better could be enough to clinch the Order of Merit title.
Meanwhile, the man closest to Fahy, Galway's Liam Nolan, is not without hope either after scraping through to the final day on the number at 12-over par.
The cut to the top-39 and ties fell in Nolan's favour although he'll need to pull a low score out of the fire to make inroads into Fahy's Bridgestone advantage.
With Peter O'Keeffe, Mark Power and Jason Rackard all missing this week, only Keith Egan, Aaron Ryan and Jake Whelan remained as possible contenders.Carton House player Egan is tied in 21st at nine-over par alongside Fahy after adding a 74 to his opening 79 but will need his Sunday best and a bit of luck to trouble the leader from fifth (128) on the Bridgestone grid.
Newlands Jake Whelan and Thurles golfer Ryan both fell two shots shy of the required cut-mark after returning 14-over par 36-hole tallies.
After close of play on Sunday, the top-3 on the Order of Merit will be automatically selected to Golf Ireland's first men's High Performance Panel.