It will go down as one of the best wins in Tartan Tour history. Step forward Chris Kelly, who may have been reluctant to place a third M&H Logistics PGA Scottish Championship victory ahead of his previous title triumphs in 2003 and 2015, but that was probably only because he was in a daze.
No wonder when you consider the variety of factors the 40-year-old overcame to complete an impressive wire-to-wire win in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event at Gleneagles.
He had not competed nearly as much this season as he had in the past, having decided that he could no longer continue playing full-time. He had taken up a post under Ian Collins, the long-serving club professional at Stirling, back in February.
That, coupled with some things going in his life, both in golf and away from it, gave Kelly little confidence heading into this assignment and, even after starting with a stunning 63 in testing conditions then opening up a five-shot lead after adding a 67, he still didn’t believe a third victory was possible.
When his playing partner, Paul O’Hara, got within two shots of him with four holes to play after having fallen seven behind seven holes earlier in the final round, Kelly’s fears looked as though they may have been proved well founded in the denouement of an event shortened to 54 holes due to bad weather.
That the tournament got the right and proper outcome, though, was entirely down to Kelly and no wonder he was a tad emotional at the end of it all. He didn’t just hold on over that nerve-wracking closing stretch; he kicked on again. The former Tartan Tour No 1 finished birdie-birdie-par-birdie for a closing 67 and a 13-under-par total, winning by six shots.
It was the biggest winning margin in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event since Kelly claimed his first title triumph by seven shots on the PGA Centenary Course in 2003. His second success, in 2015, was secured on the King’s Course in a play-off against Paul McKechnie.
“I can’t quite believe it,” admitted Kelly. “I played lovely on the front nine today and felt happy and in control, but felt I was tying up a little on the back nine. All of a sudden, Paul cut my lead to just two shots and I thought, ‘oh no, here were go’.
“But, thanks to hitting a 6-iron to about two feet, I managed to make a crucial birdie at the 15th before then knocking an 8-iron to three feet under the hole for a 2 at the next.”
With O’Hara dropping a shot there, Kelly was virtually home and dry, rounding off a brilliant performance by two-putting the last for a closing birdie. “After getting off to a flyer with my 63, it was just a case of trying not to make a mess of things,” added the champion, who picked up a cheque for £9,500.
On a day when Gavin Hay (Grantown-on-Spey) and Chris Doak (Renaissance Club) took advantage of some benign autumn conditions to card matching eight-under-par 62s, O’Hara was disappointed that he could only manage a 68. That left the 30-year-old in a share of second spot with Robert Arnott (Bishopbriggs Golf Range) and Greg McBain (Newmachar), with the trio each earning £5,100.
“I was rubbish today, really,” groaned the North Lanarkshire Leisure-attached O’Hara, who had the consolation of securing the Scottish Region Order of Merit title for the first time as he finished more than 100 points ahead of second-placed Greig Hutcheon.
Meanwhile, Hay, Hutcheon and Gareth Wright secured the three spots up for grabs in the upcoming PGA Play-Offs at Walton Heath off the Order of Merit. O’Hara and Chris Currie had already secured exemptions for the end-of-season event involving players from all seven of the PGA regions.