TAKING up where he’d left off when finishing the Scottish squad’s winter training trip to South Africa with a flourish, Balmore’s Fraser McKenna made a flying start to the new domestic season by overtaking the long-time leader, Graeme Robertson, in the final round to win the Scottish Champion of Champions at Leven.
On a cold and testing final day on the Fife coast, the 21-year-old, who had trailed Robertson by four shots at the halfway stage, followed a morning 70 with a splendid closing round of 68 for a nine-under-par aggregate of 275, winning by three shots from both Robertson and the defending champion, Brian Soutar.
It was the second time in less than a year that McKenna, a former finalist in the British Boys’ Championship, had prevailed in a head-to-head tussle with Robertson, having also pipped the Glenbervie player in a play-off to win last year’s Sutherland Chalice, a Scottish Order of Merit event at Dumfries & Galloway.
That came just before McKenna finished runner-up in the Leven Gold Medal last August and, having now gone one better in the other prestigious event at the Fife venue, the tall Glaswegian has laid down an early marker in the battle for spots in the Scottish side for the Eisenhower Trophy later in the year.
“This win shows all the hard work I put in over in South Africa has really paid off,” said McKenna, who ended that eight-week trip by taking fellow Scot Paul Shields to the fourth extra hole in an epic semi-final tussle in the Northern Amateur Open.
“I came home feeling I was hitting the ball great and my coach, Ian Rae, said it was just a case of trying to be patient. I didn’t feel as though I did anything fancy this weekend, particularly in the opening two rounds – it was just a case of playing my own game.”
A shot behind Robertson, who had spreadeagled the field with his opening 64, heading into the final round, McKenna took over the lead by picking up two shots in the first four holes, then adding a birdie-2 at the short seventh to be out in 31.
A birdie-eagle-birdie burst from the 11th – he reduced the 496-yard 12th to a drive and lob wedge – took McKenna clear and, though he let four shots spill over the closing stretch – his clubhouse target always looked just out of Robertson’s reach.
“I finished fifth in this event last year as well being second in the Gold Medal, so it must suit my eye,” added the winner. “I also normally putt well and that helps round here as well.”
Robertson, who also eagled the 12th after starting his final round with 11 straight pars, closed with a 72 to finish alongside Soutar, who had been ten shots off the pace at the halfway stage but signed off with last-day scores of 66 and 69 to catapult himself up the leaderboard.
“It wasn’t a bad defence of the title,” said the Leven player, who won the South African Amateur Championship last month. “I still felt I had a chance at the halfway stage and was right in there until Fraser had his good run after the turn.”