Scots hopeful suffer misery in Open qualifying bid

Jamie McLeary came within a shot of making a play-off at Gailes Links. Picture: John Devlin

Jamie McLeary came within a shot of making a play-off at Gailes Links. Picture: John Devlin

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THERE was no Scottish 1-2-3 this time.

In fact, with the tartan hopefuls coming up empty-handed at Gailes Links as well as the three other Final Qualifying venues, the Scottish representation in the 144th Open Championship at St Andrews in a fortnight’s time could be as little as four-strong.

With just the French Open and Scottish Open to come, Sandy Lyle, Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren are the only home players currently in the line-up for this year’s Claret Jug contest. To say it’s a poor representation would be an understatement.

Jamie McLeary, successful at this stage and this venue 12 months ago, came within a shot of making a play-off at Gailes Links. So, too, did Scott Henry and amateur Ewen Ferguson. Raymond Russell finished fourth at Royal Cinque while a jaded Colin Montgomerie couldn’t get into the mix at Woburn.

In Ayrshire, it was the sound of Lancastrian voices celebrating that filled the air as darkness descended at the end of a long day. Two players from the Red Rose county, Clitheroe professional Mark Young and Formby amateur Paul Kinnear, claimed spots. The other went to Ryan Fox, the son of former All Blacks stand-off Grant.

When last year’s Open was being played at Hoylake, Young was fitting conservatories. He only gave up that job last November and now, just a few months later, the 33-year-old is heading for the home of golf to play in his first major. “It will be a dream come true to play in The Open at St Andrews – where better to play in one?” he said, pinching himself.

With rounds of 68 and 70 for a four-under-par total, he claimed top spot by two shots. “I played very well this morning and actually left a few shots out there,” added Young, who recorded a confidence-boosting top-10 finish in last week’s EuroPro Tour event at Newmachar but has no ranking at all. “I putted well and when the greens are as good as this, they tend to go in. “In the afternoon I made an interesting birdie-4 at the 14th after nearly being on the train track with my drive. I walked off the green laughing after that.”

Kinnear, a 20-year-old from Liverpool, and Fox, a 28-year-old who has won twice on the PGA Australasian Tour, secured their spots at the expense of Welshman Rhys Davies in a play-off after they’d all finished on 140, two-under. Kinnear birdied the first extra hole from three feet while Fox went through at the next after Davies found trouble in the rough. It was the second year in a row that Edinburgh-born Davies had missed out in a shoot-out. “I was shaking over my three-foot birdie putt,” said a tearful Kinnear, who’d earned his place in this line-up through winning a regional qualifier at West Lancs. “It was awful waiting around to see if I was going to get into a play-off and I think that’s why all the emotions have come flooding out.”

A late developer, Fox is making his first trip to Europe. “This is massive,” he declared. “My first major at the Home of Golf – it doesn’t get any better.” His father was in the All Blacks team that won the 1987 World Cup. “Golf is a bit easier on the body than rugby, where they always used to say, ‘let’s slam Foxy’s son,” he said, smiling.

Joint-second after an opening 68, Henry was in the rough too much in the afternoon as his bid was undone by a 73. “You can’t play from the thick stuff all the time,” groaned the Clydebank man. McLeary reckoned he missed “12 putts inside ten feet” in the first 27 holes before finding his touch late on the greens while a final flourish also wasn’t enough for Ferguson. “Trying to make birdies down the stretch is what you practise for and it’s an experience I’ll learn from,” said the 2013 British Boys’ champion.

While three-times major winner Vijay Singh was a disappointing absentee after failing to turn up in Ayrshire, Montgomerie at least give it a go despite fighting jetlag at Woburn. “I just didn’t putt very well. Very poorly, in fact – I had chance after chance after chance,” said the Scot after finishing joint-15th in Buckinghamshire following rounds of 72 and 71. Two-times US Open champion Retief Goosen won a three-man play-off for the last spot there.

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