Sharing a house in Aviemore proved the recipe for success in this year’s SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge. Living under the same roof during the week, Richard McEvoy, James Heath and Matthew Ford took turns at cooking dinner and duly finished first, second and third in the £220,000 event at Macdonald Spey Valley.
“Our house was just up the road and we were just chilling out,” said Heath after putting up a stout title defence as he stormed home in 31 for a closing 64. “We had a couple of beers – not too many – and it seems to have paid off for all three of us.”
Certainly so for McEvoy as he marked his first Challenge Tour appearance for around two-and-a-half years by returning to the winner’s circle 13 years after making his breakthrough in the professional ranks in the Panama Open. The 38-year-old Essex man strolled to his second success, quickly extending a one-shot overnight lead to four strokes with a strong start and never looking like being caught after racing to the turn in 30.
Signing off with a 66 for a 16-under-par 268 total, McEvoy finished four shots clear of Heath, with Ford a further stroke back after his closing effort included a hole-in-one as well as two chip-ins, as he became the fourth English winner of this event in a row and the seventh overall in 12 stagings.
“It feels fantastic,” said McEvoy as he savoured a success that earned him £35,000. “I’ve played that front nine brilliant this week and got off to a great start before keeping my composure to play solid coming in. I’ve probably played some of the best golf of my life so far this year [in finishing fifth in the Lyoness Open in Austria on the European Tour last month] and it’s great that I have brought that form here.
“I’m also pleased to see James and Matt do well after sharing a house – it must have been my cooking.”
Heath had been three-over with two holes to play in his opening round, so was pleased to get as close as he did to McEvoy in the end. A late burst that produced five birdies in a back nine of 31 helped enormously. “I’m delighted with that,” said the 34-year-old before heaping praise on the winner. “Rich is a really, really good player,” he added. “In fact, he’s as tidy in every department as anyone I know.”
Ford’s hole-in-one – the sixth of his career – came courtesy of a 5-iron at the 194-yard sixth, where compatriot Jamie Abbott achieved the same feat in the second round. Ford’s ace came after back-to-back birdies before he chipped in for an eagle-3 at the 13th then repeated that trick for a birdie at the next. “It was a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Ford of his week. “I played some good stuff, but strangely enough I haven’t putted that well.”
Being successful in that department helped Jamie McLeary, the 2009 winner, leave with some silverware on this occasion as well. The 36-year-old picked up the Douglas Lowe Memorial Trophy as leading Scot, closing with a 67 to finish joint 12th on seven-under, two shots ahead of Grant Forrest (65) and four in front of Jack Doherty (67).
“I’m happy with that,” said McLeary after backing up his fifth-place finish in Denmark the previous weekend. “It was a shame about the conditions on the first day as I’m not the greatest in the rain and I also didn’t have a caddie. If it hadn’t been for opening with a 74, I would have finished five or six places higher. Finishing as top Scot is nice, especially as there are two or three times as many Scots in the field as normal, but it’s not the trophy I would really have liked.”
It might not be too long before Forrest gets his hands on a trophy on the second-tier circuit, having delivered more evidence that he’s not only got the game to compete in the paid ranks but has the mental strength also required.
He had been four-over following just five holes here after getting off to a nightmare start but finished joint 21st, closing with a flawless 65 that he capped by rolling in a 50-foot birdie putt at the last. “I’m happy with my game,” said Forrest. “I know I have the ability – it’s just a case of putting it together for four rounds.”