Chris Kelly’s biggest danger in the final round of the M&H Logistics Scottish PGA Championship could be himself. Even sitting with a five-shot lead after two rounds in the weather-shortened tournament at Gleneagles, the 40-year-old, after all, was not exactly a man oozing confidence.
“Astounded,” said Kelly of his position in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event, having surprised even himself by carding two outstanding efforts of 63 and 67 in testing conditions on the King’s Course after cutting back his playing schedule this year since taking up a post under Ian Collins at Stirling back in February.
With such a commanding margin and also having won this prestigious title twice before in 2003 and 2015, the same year he won the Northern Open, it would still seem that Kelly, a former No 1 on the Scottish circuit, will take some catching over the closing circuit, but the bullishness he once displayed in an abundance is long gone.
“I’m not sure what has happened over the last two days, but hey ho,” he added of sitting well out in front in the £53,000 event on ten-under-par. “It may all still come crashing down because a five-shot lead can be lost in the first five holes here. One tiny thing going wrong in a round of golf can also turn a 67 into a 77.”
On a day when a wind switch ensured another stiff test at the Perthshire venue, Kelly eagled the sixth after hitting a 6-iron to three feet before a lost ball saw that good work done straight away through a double-bogey 6 at the next. He responded to that setback exactly the way he wanted with a birdie-2 at the eighth before coming home in 33, two-under.
“Where you ordinarily make your score on this course – the back nine – was playing tough today,” reported Kelly. “As an example, I couldn’t get over the saddle with my drive at the last and I can’t remember the last time that was the case.”
The leader is bidding to join a select group to win this event more than twice, including Eric Brown, John Panton, Bernard Gallacher and Sam Torrance. “I’ve played well and putted really well, so I’ll just go out tomorrow and see what happens,” said Kelly with a shrug of the shoulders.
Leading the chase is Paul O’Hara, who has hardly put a foot wrong over two days – most of the season, in fact – and will be ready to pounce if Kelly does start to let things slip. “My driving has become a big strength since I started working with David Orr and I’ve only been in the thick stuff once over the last two days,” said the 30-year-old after adding a 69 to his opening 66.
“It is funny because I’ve been looking at some of the places I’d found in the past and thought, ‘jeezo, I must have been rubbish then’.”
O’Hara, who is bidding to go one better after losing to an eagle from Gareth Wright at the first hole in a sudden-death play-off 12 months ago, has already landed both the Northern Open and the Titleist & Footjoy PGA Professional Championship this year. As a result of his sparkling form, he’s on course to top the Scottish Order of Merit for the first time.
“I’ve not won it yet, though,” pointed out O’Hara, who leads that title race from Greig Hutcheon, with Wright back in third. “My place in the PGA Play-Offs [taking place at Walton Heath at the end of this month and the only path these days for club professionals into events such as the BMW PGA Championship] is secured and that’s good, but there’s still a lot to play for tomorrow.”
Giving another good account of himself in the event after knocking at the door a couple of times in the past, Newmachar’s Greg McBain (68-69) sits third on three-under, two shots ahead of Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre Inchmarlo), Neil Fenwick (Dunbar), Cameron Marr (Musselburgh) and Robert Arnott (Bishopbriggs Golf Range).
Defending champion Wright (West Linton) lies 15 shots behind Kelly in joint-19th after rounds of 75 and 70.