Golf: Hillson is last Lothians man standing on links

CRAIGIELAW'S Mark Hillson prevented a "Total Wipeout" for the Lothians contingent in the qualifying for the Amateur Championship at Muirfield.

A quarter-finalist at Formby 12 months ago, Hillson secured one of the 73 places after a gutsy display in his second round on the Open Championship course. The leading Lothians player in the 288-strong field after an opening 69 at North Berwick, Hillson birdied the long fifth but dropped shots at the two par-3s on the front nine to be out in 38.

Following a wayward tee shot, he was then forced to take a penalty drop from a horrible lie in thick rough at the tenth and ran up a double-bogey 6 there.

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"Then I really started chopping it," said the former Lothians champion. After missing another fairway, he did well to get up and down to save par at the 11th but was unable to repeat the feat from the left of the 13th green.

At that point, Hillson was staring an early exit in the face but he dug deep to secure a place in the match-play phase for the second successive year. After short-siding himself at the 15th, he holed from ten feet to save par, knocked in a 12-footer for a birdie at the 17th and, crucially as it turned out, sank one from 15 feet for a par at the last.

"It was a case of trying to grind out at score and that's not easy when you are playing one of the toughest courses in the world," he admitted.

"I didn't play well from tee to green and I was having to try and hang on as best as I could."

Hillson, who has caddied at Muirfield in the past, added: "You won't get the course easier than it was today, though it is still running fast and it's difficult to have any control if you are not hitting fairways."

There was disappointment for the other seven Lothians players in the field as they finished outside the qualifying mark of 143, one-over-par.

James Ross of Royal Burgess had a 71 at North Berwick for 146, one less than both Baberton's Paul Ferrier and Zander Culverwell of Dunbar.

Playing in his first event since returning for the summer from the University of North Carolina, former Scottish Boys' champion Ferrier didn't hole enough putts as he shot a 74 at Muirfield.

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Also playing there, where he had former Scottish champion Ian Young on his bag, Culverwell, the 2007 Lothians champion, had a roller-coaster round – his 76 including an eagle, two birdies, six bogeys and a triple-bogey 8 at the long ninth.

The Glen's Neil Henderson was on 148 after a "scrappy" 77 at Muirfield, where current Lothians champion Allyn Dick from Kingsknowe had a 79 for 153.

Craig Elliot, one of Dick's team-mates in the Carrickvale side that lifted the Dispatch Trophy three years in a row before they were dethroned recently by Silverknowes, had a 72 at North Berwick for 150, while late stand-in John Miller (Gullane) also bowed out on 155.

Hillson was among ten Scots who qualified, double the number from last year's event in Lancashire. That will be a boost for Scotland captain Scott Knowles as he prepares to finalise a six-man side to defend the European title in Sweden next month.

James Byrne, who shared second spot on 137, two shots behind leading qualifier Tommy Fleetwood, is a certainty for that team, as are two others who safely made it through, Michael Stewart and Philip McLean.

Ross Kellett should still hold on to his place despite missing out, while it looks to be between James White, Kris Nicol, David Law, Paul Shields and Greg Paterson for the remaining two places.

Nicol and Law both failed to make the match-play stage in East Lothian, but White, Shields and Paterson got through and can strengthen their cap claims with a strong showing.

As for Scott Crichton, Chris Harkins and Jordan Findlay, the three other home players left standing, Knowles could soon be starting to have a look at them for the Home Internationals later in the year.