Just as we can always expect to see the likes of Tico Torres, Huey Lewis and Kyle MacLachan among the celebrities coming out of their comfort zones, another recurring theme in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is the event getting under way with at least one Scottish professional with his back against the wall as the Race to Dubai reaches the last few laps.
The £4 million event isn’t quite a Last Chance Saloon, but, with only the British Masters and Portugal Masters to come in terms of regular events on the 2016 European Tour schedule, it’s pretty damn close to one. And, historically, this home event has been something of a saviour for Scots.
Richie Ramsay started the trend in 2009 when the blow of squandering £82,000 through a 72nd-hole bogey – it dropped him from second to joint-fourth – was softened by a six-figure cheque locking up his card for the following season.
That welcome feat was also achieved by both George Murray and Marc Warren when they finished third and joint-fifth respectively two years later.
A top-five finish in 2014 saw Chris Doak add his name to that list and, helped by claiming ninth spot 12 months ago, David Drysdale also went on to retain his seat at the top table in European golf. While the heat is off Drysdale – he’s sitting 90th on the money-list –this time around, three of his compatriots are currently just outside the all-important top 110, namely Scott Jamieson (114th), Craig Lee (123rd) and Marc Warren (125th).
In short, they could all do with a good week, with Jamieson making the best start among the trio on a day when Swede Alex Noren provided further evidence of how he’s turned into a Scottish specialist by setting the pace with a course record-equalling eight-under-par 64 at Carnoustie.
Jamieson carded a five-under-par 67 – it included an eagle at the third – at Kingsbarns, where only Ross Fisher bettered that effort after the Englishman covered his last six holes in a stirring six-under. “It was good, I played pretty solid and when I was out of position I did a good job of getting it up and down,” said Jamieson, who ignited a badly-needed spark to his season when recording top-10 finishes in two of his last three outings.
The 32-year-old has held a European Tour card since 2011 and doesn’t want to be faced with a visit to the Qualifying School in December. “It was in my mind coing into this that I need a good week,” he added. “I’m just outside the bubble just now, but I’m in a much better position than I was a month ago. One solid week and it’s done and dusted – but one great week and I could go on and have my best season yet. It’s a funny old game how one week can change everything massively.
“I think if I was to finish top 20 then the most important goal is probably taken care of in terms of securing my card. But, if I can get a top ten or top five then you start talking about getting into the Final Stage events. It’s incredible how fine the margins are from one extreme to the other, it’s so close. If I can keep playing the way I did today then hopefully I’ll be right in there come Sunday.”
With Lee also getting off to a promising start as he signed for a 69 at Kingsbarns – Warren shot a 72 at the same venue – it certainly seems helpful for Scottish players to have links turf under their feet at this crucial stage of the season. “I think it’s good for Scottish golf that we have this event at this time of year,” admitted Jamieson. “We should know the golf courses a little better than most of the guys and be more familiar with the conditions and how to play in a bit of wind and keep the ball low. It’s a different game to what we usually play week-in, week-out, so I’d say we definitely have an edge, that’s for sure.”
Noren, who won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in July before reaching the final of the Paul Lawrie Match Play at Archerfield Links three weeks later, definitely had the edge over the rest of the field at the end of day one. He was out in 31 and home in 33 to become the tenth player to card 64 at Carnoustie, joining Alan Tait, Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie on that list. “I just love links golf,” admitted Noren. “I didn’t play unbelievable but just putted really well (needing just 24 putts). I’ve never shot lower than maybe 71 here, so it went better today than I expected and I’m very happy.”
Ramsay would have been happier if a “mental mistake” hadn’t cost him a 6 at the last at Carnoustie, where he signed for a 70, where debutant Grant Forrest had a 73, one fewer than fellow rookie pro Ewen Ferguson at St Andrews. Stephen Gallacher fared best of the Scots there with 70.