Golf: Drake never gets a plain sailing in title journey

PUMPHERSTON’S Paul Drake doesn’t mind doing it the hard way in his bid to win the Lothians Championship, admitting at Dalmahoy last night: “I like playing the big guns.”

The 38-year-old has already accounted for Duddingston’s David Miller and former winner Steven Armstrong, from Turnhouse, beating the latter at the 19th in their second-round tie.

Now, in tonight’s quarter- finals over the Kirknewton venue’s championship East Course, Drake faces Keith Nicholson, the four-time champion from Haddington.

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“I’ve never played Keith before but I know what to expect,” said Drake of an opponent who is renowned for his consistency.

One up with three to play against 2004 champion Armstrong, Drake lost the 16th to a par but got his nose in front again by hitting a 9-iron to about six feet for a birdie-2 at the next.

He then three-putted the last after leaving his first one woefully short but made amends by rolling in a five-footer for a match-winning birdie at the first extra hole after Armstrong had missed from around the same distance.

Nicholson, who notched the first of his title triumphs 15 years ago, marched into the last eight with a comfortable win over Linlithgow’s Ed Shannly.

The East Lothian man made three birdies on the spin just before the turn, sparking the burst by holing from close in at the seventh.

He then knocked in an 18-footer at the next, where Shannly followed him in, before making a two-putt 4 at the ninth to be four up at the turn.

Pars then proved good enough at the 11th and 12th and Shannly offered his hand in congratulation after blocking his tee-shot into trouble at the 13th.

On his next task, Nicholson said: “Paul is an experienced player and it is just down to who plays best on the night.”

Another former winner still standing is Uphall’s Colin Swanston, who squeezed through on the last after a ding-dong tussle with Ross Noon, the 2011 Lothians Order of Merit winner from Craigielaw.

Three down at the turn, Noon won four holes in a row from the 11th but then lost the 16th and 17th to pars and that was that after Swanston played the 18th to perfection, splitting the fairway with a 2-iron and then plumping a 6-iron on to the green.

“Tonight wasn’t my best golf by far but I was fortunate enough to come out on top,” said Swanston, who lifted the title at Monktonhall 13 years ago.

Back then, he kept his glove on for putting and that’s still the case today.

“I may always end up with one white hand in the summer but I don’t mind as it feels comfortable keeping it on,” he added.

Swanston will have to wait until just before he tees off tonight to discover who he’ll face in the quarter-finals.

That’s because the match between Musselburgh’s Benn McLeod and Sean Walter, of West Linton, had to be halted due to darkness after they’d halved the 19th in par-5s.

By then, Ratho Park’s Neil Sneddon and Chris Wood, of North Berwick, were well on their way home after they’d both recorded comfortable 5 and 4 wins to set up a last-eight clash.

Sneddon, who beat Dunbar’s Stephen Simants, reckons he’ll need to avoid coming up against a big-hitter if he’s going to lift the title.

“I’ve got six head covers in the bag,” said the 37-year-old former professional, who is certainly using those clubs to good effect so far.

After his win over Sneddon’s clubmate Alastair Macphail, Wood revealed he’s hardly had his driver out of the bag despite the course being the longest in Scotland off the back tees.

“I’ve been hitting a 3-wood or rescue club most of the time as I’m comfortable going into greens with a 5 or 6-iron,” said the 31-year-old.

Following the exit the previous night of leading qualifier Allyn Dick, many fancied Silverknowes star Graham Robertson to go on and claim the title this weekend.

But his race is over, too, after he succumbed 2 and 1 to Craig Deerness, who admitted he’s being inspired by past exploits of fellow Harburn members Jim Gilmour, Michael Burnett and Stuart Boyle over the years.

“I’m chuffed with myself,” said the 30-year-old, who made three crucial up and downs on the back nine and now meets Longniddry’s Michael Bacigalupo.

Watched by his father, former top rugby referee Jonny, Bacigalupo hit his second shot stiff with a 6-iron for an eagle at the ninth then birdied the tenth in beating the Glen’s George Thomson.

Second-round results: K Nicholson (Haddington) bt E Shannly (Linlithgow) 6 and 5; P Drake (Pumpherston) bt S Armstrong (Turnhouse) at 19th; N Sneddon (Ratho Park) bt S Simants (Dunbar) 5 and 4; C Wood (North Berwick) bt A Macphail (Ratho Park) 5 and 4; C Deerness (Harburn) bt G Robertson (Silverknowes) 2 and 1; M Bacigalupo (Longniddry) bt G Thomson (Glen) 3 and 2; S Walter (West Linton) all square with B McLeod (Musselburgh) after 19 holes; C Swanston (Uphall) bt R Noon (Craigielaw) one hole.