Gareth Wright showed why he believes that it’s worth at least one more crack at the European Tour Qualifying School by opening up a five-shot lead after the first round of the M&H Logistics Scottish PGA Championship at Gleneagles, where slow play and basic golfing etiquette were both berated former winner Chris Doak.
How much golf’s face has changed since this event was first held in 1907 is illustrated by the fact the pacesetter in its 100th staging is a Welshman, who, in fact, became the first non-Scot to claim the title with his victory at the same venue two years ago.
West Linton professional Wright, though, is a bona fide contender through playing most of his golf over the past decade on the Tartan Tour. There is also no denying that he merited his position at the top of the leaderboard – his healthy advantage, too, for that matter – after defying wind and rain to carve out a splendid nine-under-par 62 on the 6,790-yard King’s Course.
“I shot 11-under once, but this is right up there as one of my best scores as the weather wasn’t pretty out there at times,” said the 34-year-old of an effort that, admittedly, was made with preferred lies in operation but was nonetheless just two shots outside the course record set by Englishman Paul Curry in the second round of the 1992 Bell’s Scottish Open.
Wright’s card was illuminated by an eagle-2 at the 309-yard 14th, where he hit a driver to 10 feet. But he had a feeling it might be his day after making an unlikely birdie – one of seven – at the sixth. His hand coming off the club almost resulted in a complete miss on the tee. After splashing out of a bunker, he then thought a 3-wood had ended up in a bush, so was relieved to see it had come up just short before pitching in from 45 yards. “Those are the kind of lucky breaks that keep the momentum going,” he said afterwards.
Wright has just about held his own in the occasional European Tour event he’s played in over the years. He made the cut in this year’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and, just last week, fell just one short of making it to the weekend in the British Masters at The Grove.
“It’s still not off the cards that I want to have another go at getting a Tour spot,” he said. “I played with Richie Ramsay, who I grew up with in amateur golf, in my two rounds last week and I honestly believe that my game doesn’t look out of place against these guys.”
Doak, who is hoping to be back at the top table in European golf as early as next season, opened his bid to regain the title he landed in 2010 with a 67 to share second spot with Ross Cameron, Jonathan Lomas and Sam Binning. “I’m frustrated by the time it takes to play golf these days,” declared Doak after a round that took close to five hours. “No matter what Tour you play on, the pace of play is shocking. No one waves people through anymore and no one is ready to play. It is terrible and all these pre-shot routines players go through are bollocks. We took five hours on a course with no rough and fairways that are 100 yards wide. I’m a fast player, but even so... The only way to do anything about the pace of play is to reduce the times players are allowed for a shot.”
While Wright has already blown a large chunk of the field out of the title race, Paul O’Hara (69), Greig Hutcheon (70) and Alastair Forsyth (71) are among those who will still be aiming to have a say over the next three days in this milestone event.
For defending champion Chris Kelly, though, it looks a long way back from 12 shots adrift of the leader.