The ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit is now a race in three as some of the brightest young talents in Australian golf face off over the final two rounds of the Australian PGA Championship at RACV Royal Pines Resort.

With a one-year exemption on the European Tour at stake, a strong weekend is potentially life-changing for Jake McLeod, Dimitrios Papadatos and Anthony Quayle, all of whom are in position to challenge for the Joe Kirkwood Cup.

If either of the trio were to be victorious in the co-sanctioned event on Sunday, they would automatically become a member of the European Tour and the runner-up on the Order of Merit would be offered European Tour membership for 2019.

McLeod, the NSW Open champion and Order of Merit leader, at one point had a three-shot lead during the second round on Friday but after a double-bogey at the par-4 17th closed at 8-under, one shot behind tournament leader Cameron Smith.

He will play alongside Papadatos (7-under) on Saturday in the second last group of the day while Quayle is two shots further back in a tie for eighth.

Second and fourth on the Order of Merit respectively, both Daniel Nisbet and James Nitties missed the cut on Friday so can’t improve their position while only a victory could propel West Australian Matt Jager into a position where he might snag a spot on the European Tour.

With the winner of the Australian PGA Championship to pocket $237,500 in prizemoney, both Papadatos and Quayle would leapfrog McLeod if they were to secure victory but the young Queenslander hopes to continue the hot hand that also saw him finish third at the Australian Open.

“I feel like I'm playing really nicely, the putter feels good and I'm hitting it well,” McLeod said after his round.

“Just need to work on distance control stuff with my wedges, but those poor swings, just lack of concentration out there, especially on 17.

“I should have pulled out (of the tee shot); I knew that was not going to end well for myself.

“It's a bit of an up and down day and it was a lot of good and a lot of bad.

“It was just one of those days, but the good was a bit better, so it was nice to have a couple under today.”

Jager, who along with Papadatos works with Sydney-based coach Gary Barter, followed up an opening round of 65 with a 1-under 71 to be tied for fourth, two shots behind tournament leader Cameron Smith.

Given the way he played on Thursday, Jager knows that if he can eradicate some errors that the Joe Kirkwood Cup is well within his reach.

“Still only a couple back, right there,” said Jager, who holed his 6-iron at the par-4 seventh for par after hitting his tee shot into the water.

“If I can just match a bit of the putting and the ball-striking over the weekend then I'll be right there.

“My short game was what saved me all day. I didn't hit the ball great, worked hard and grinded when I needed to just give myself a chance going into the weekend.”

Current Order of Merit standings:

Jake McLeod$240,473.66
Daniel Nisbet$225,982.11
Anthony Quayle$194,924.62
James Nitties$190,806.00
Dimi Papadatos$182,943.06