With a number of notable names still standing in the Fairstone Scottish Amateur Championship, Muirfield’s reputation for producing top-ranked champions could continue this week.
The renowned Open venue, where Phil Mickelson lifted the Claret Jug two years ago, is certainly providing a strong but fair test for the nation’s leading amateur golfers.
Indeed, to understand the attraction of the East Lothian links best, it is perhaps worth heeding the words of a certain Jack Nicklaus, who said of it: “Muirfield makes you play more shots than any other championship course in the British Isles. It has a few quirks but no tricks, just honest golf.”
Top seed Grant Forrest is relishing the challenge and admits there would be no better place to win his second Scottish Amateur crown, after he moved menacingly into the last 32.
The local lad, attached to the Craigielaw club, came through the sun and showers to ease past Bon Accord’s Barrie Edmond 3&2 to reach the fourth round, alongside a number of other in-form players.
Forrest won the crown at Royal Dornoch in 2012 and has built on that success in recent years, including reaching the final of The Amateur Championship last month and helping Scotland become European Team champions just days ago.
At a venue he knows well, having qualified for The Open two years ago, Forrest hopes he can continue to fire and further boost his Walker Cup hopes. The 22-year-old is seeking to emulate the most recent player to win two Scottish Amateur titles, David Law in 2009 and 2011.
“I always felt in control and played pretty solidly, hitting a lot of greens,” said Forrest, who got off to a flying start after three birdies in the opening five holes.
“You can’t spray it around here and get away with it. The guy who plays the best golf here is going to win it. Life is difficult from the rough.”
Asked if pleasant memories were flooding back after his victory three years ago, he said: “I took it one round at a time at Dornoch and then the next thing I knew I was in the final.
“Yeah, of course it would be nice to win another one here, and there would not be many better places to do it.”
Forrest has members of Scotland’s winning team in Sweden for company in the last 32, among them Drumoig’s Connor Syme, who came through a tough match against Scott-Thorn Robertson of Hazlehead at the 19th, Jack McDonald (Kilmarnock Barassie) and Glenbervie’s Graeme Robertson.
Graeme Robertson is something of a veteran of the event, making his eighth appearance, and reached last year’s final at Downfield, before losing out to Chris Robb.
After just three bogeys across his three rounds so far, he said: “My game has been good, and the more I stay in the event the sharper my game will get.”
The 2001 champion, Barry Hume, also caught the eye in progressing to round four, defeating the Liberton youngster Kieran Cantley 5&4.
The left-hander Robert MacIntyre, twice a national champion at Boys’ level in 2013, is also looking good, moving into round four without yet playing the final two holes this week.
MacIntyre’s draw has perhaps opened up for him after the surprise exit of seventh seed Craig Ross in the first round.
“I’m playing well and confident with my game,” said MacIntyre, 18, who enjoyed a strong first college season at McNeese State University in Louisiana.
“It suits my game out here and I’m just going out and enjoying the challenge of a great golf course.
“It’s not often you are going to get the chance to play a few games here during one week, so why not enjoy it? I reached the last 16 of The Amateur at Carnoustie and I enjoy the one-on-one challenge.”
Forrest has set up a re-match against Williamwood’s George Burns, whom he defeated last year en route to the quarter-finals.
St Andrews student Burns has only been back playing for around a few weeks after he was ruled out for three months with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Burns, who lost a ball at the 17th before two good blows up the last saw him home against Carnoustie’s Daniel Elder, said: “I played very well and feel as though I can beat him (Forrest) if I play well. I’ve beaten some of the top amateurs before.
“I’ve missed a lot of the season, but I’m just trying to get back playing well. I finished 11th in the Boyd Quaich at St Andrews last week and was in contention until the final round.”
Late in the day, Tantallon’s Calum Hill, who qualified for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at neighbouring Gullane, produced an eye-catching 8&7 win over Nairn’s Robert Smith to retain further local interest.
But Hill’s heroics were soon eclipsed by Fifer Colin Martin (Balbirnie Park), who took the scalp of second seed, Ewen Ferguson, at the close of the day, winning 3&2 in a major upset.