Comment: Martin Dempster on Scots golf’s woeful season

Stirling's Craig Lee missed the cut at the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Stirling's Craig Lee missed the cut at the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

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Well, that was poor. Dire, in fact. The Saltire may have been prominent at times on the leaderboard during the Portugal Masters, the final regular event on this season’s European Tour. That, though, merely masked one of the worst campaigns by golf’s “Tartan Army” in the past 20 years.

Unless either this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions or the three Final Series events after that come up with something, the 2016 season will be the first since 2009 that has failed to deliver a single Scottish success on the circuit. The only other time that has happened over the past two decades was in 2003.

Not counting either the majors, WGCs or the Olympic tournament, more than 30 events have come and gone over the past 11 months without a Scot tasting victory on the European Tour. No matter what way you look at it, that is hugely disappointing. Russell Knox came closest when he forced Rory McIlroy into producing two moments of magic to finish ahead of the Scot in the Irish Open at The K Club. But, apart from Paul Lawrie holding the lead going into the last round of the Qatar Masters, there was very little for us to get excited about.

Need any convincing about that? Well, after Knox’s effort in the Emerald Isle, next best were fifth-place finishes recorded in the past few weeks by Marc Warren and Lawrie in the Dunhill Links and the Portugal Masters respectively. After that, Richie Ramsay was sixth in the Scottish Open.

It’s not exactly been a case of setting the heather on fire, has it? And, for the first time since the event was introduced in 2009, there’s a distinct possibility that the DP World Tour Championship will take place in Dubai in three week’s time without a single Scot in the field. It, of course, features the top 60 in the Race to Dubai and our only representative in there at the moment - 31st-ranked Knox - has intimated that he won’t be taking up his spot at Jumeirah Golf Estates. That’s a pity, but should we really be looking to Knox to be our main standard bearer on the European circuit? He’s just played in five regular events, after all.

Heading into the Final Series, it’s left to Warren and Ramsay to try and ensure the season-ending event has a tartan touch. They are sitting 66th and 68th respectively in the Race to Dubai. Next week’s Turkish Airlines Open and the following week’s Nedbank Challenge in South Africa offer routes for both to climb into that all-important top 60.

It’s getting more and more difficult, of course, to achieve that feat. But, four years ago, no less than six Scots were at the party, namely Lawrie, Ramsay, Warren, Stephen Gallacher, Scott Jamieson and David Drysdale. To go from that to zero in a relatively no time at all would be quite a shock to the system, surely.

In short, it’s been one of those seasons when no-one - other than Knox on the PGA Tour, that is - has come close to building up a head of steam. There’s been lots of huffing and puffing. Also the occasional brilliance - Ramsay’s 61 in the second round in Portugal, for instance. But, unless Knox can successfully defend his WGC title or either Warren, back close to his best again, or the ever-dogged Ramsay can come up with something special in the Final Series, this will definitely go down as an annus horribilis for us in the European Tour record books.

Only five Scots - Knox, Warren, Ramsay, Drysdale and Jamieson - secured their playing rights for next season through finishing in the top 110 in the Race to Dubai. Both Lawrie and Gallacher are okay as well due to being among the top 40 on the circuit’s career money-list. That’s not the way either would want to keep their seat at the table, but it’s been earned over time. Craig Lee, alas, had no such “insurance” policy. After agonisingly falling short by around £1,500, having bogeyed the ninth - his last - in the second round in Portugal to miss the cut by a shot, a return to the Qualifying School is on the cards for him.

Only time will tell what success it brings for the Scottish contingent this time around. But at least we can take comfort heading into the 2017 campaign knowing that, no matter what happens over the next few weeks, both Warren and Ramsay can do better next season in terms of challenging for titles and the same applies to Drysdale, Jamieson, Lawrie and Gallacher. Lawrie’s hunger to win again was there for all to see as he gave a good account if himself in Portugal. Gallacher’s tough year due to a hand injury also ended with light at the end of the tunnel. Watch out for them all, in fact, to be back firing on all cylinders next season. Here’s hoping.

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