Scoring-wise, it was easily the best day of the year for Scottish golfers. Richie Ramsay led the way with a 61 in Portugal; Russell Knox carded an equally impressive 63 in Malaysia. That catapuled him into contention in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic. Also heading into the weekend on the title trail is Marc Warren. After backing up Thursday’s 63 with an equally impressive 65, he shares the lead in the Portugal Masters with defending champion Andy Sullivan.
Add in Scott Jamieson’s 64 and matching 66s from Paul Lawrie and Craig Lee in the European Tour event in Vilamoura and the Caledonian contingent certainly clicked in tandem. Jamieson’s effort secured his card for next season. Unfortunately for Lee, a bogey at his last hole saw him agonisingly miss the cut. The Stirling man now faces a visit to the Qualifying School to try and retain his playing privileges for another year.
Warren, of course, had that same threat hanging over his head a fortnight ago. But not now. Finishing fifth in the Dunhill Links has allowed him to play with more freedom again. He’s flying, in fact. A fourth European Tour title triumph is in his sights heading into the weekend at Clube de Golfe. His one-shot overnight lead had stretched to three after finishing his second round on 14-under-par. It wasn’t until Sullivan matched Ramsay’s morning 10-under effort late in the day that the 35-year-old was caught.
“I’m really pleased as it is always tough to follow up a really good score like the one I had yesterday,” he told Sky Sports afterwards. “I was looking over my shoulder a few weeks ago as I tried to get into the top 110. But, once I had a good finish at the Dunhill, I feel as if a bit of pressure has come off my shoulders and now I’m trying to qualify for some of the events at the end of the year.”
With Knox, who is sitting 31st in the Race to Dubai, having said he won’t be there, Ramsay and Warren are the best hopes of providing a Scottish representation in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates next month. Needing to be in the top 60 after the Nedbank Challenge in three weeks’ time, Ramsay sits 65th, Warren 67th. Having found himself slipping a bit in recent weeks, Ramsay’s 61, 10 shots better than his opening salvo, was a timely tonic.
“It was a great round,” admitted the 33-year-old after moving alongside Lawrie (66-66) on 10-under, four off the lead. “I had a little thought about shooting 59, but you can’t complan any time you shoot 10-under as that is always a great day. I knew if I could give myself opportunities then I felt confident about holing some putts and I managed to do that. I also kept the momentum going today and had a mindset of just chasing birdies on the back nine - and it worked.”
Knox signed for nine birdies, including four in a row, in his flawless effort in Kuala Lumper. It matched his best round on the PGA Tour. It also moved him up 23 spots to joint-third, three shots behind defending champion Justin Thomas. “I thought five or six-under would be a great score, and then I just started making putts after putts,” said Knox. He played in the same event a year ago before winning the WGC-HSBC Champions title in Shanghai, where he defends that title next week.