Craggs launches bid to deny Scottish Boys’ big guns

CATRIONA Matthew may be playing on the other side of the Atlantic this week but her influence could help Ben Craggs, a 17-year-old who works part-time as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, deny a Clash of the Titans in the Scottish Boys’ Championship in Angus.

Ewan Scott and Bradley Neil, the top two seeds, are on course to lock horns in tomorrow’s 36-hole final at Monifieth, but the pair still have two ties to win today to set up a re-match of their last-eight meeting 12 months ago at Murcar, where Scott came out on top before losing in the final to Craig Howie.

In this morning’s quarter-finals, St Andrews 17-year-old Scott, the title favourite, meets Stuart Easton, with the winner taking on either Ben Kinsley or Euan Walker, while in the bottom half of the draw Neil is up against Ben Carnegie, the Glenbervie clubmate of Craggs, who faces Ewen Ferguson.

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Craggs, who booked his place in the last eight by beating Scottish Schools’ champion Connor Syme in a “scrappy match”, is the son of Kevin, the Scottish ladies’ national coach and, for the last four years, swing guru to Matthew, the world No 13.

“I’ve played golf with Catriona a few times and learnt a lot from her,” admitted Craggs Jnr after bagging back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th to keep his title bid on course. “She’s a fantastic all-round player but what has impressed me most about her is the way she controls her ball flight in all types of conditions.”

Watched by his old man for the first time this week – he’s just returned from a trip to France on SLGA duty – Craggs is considering heading to a college in America. In the meantime, though, he’s found himself a job in order to fund his golfing exploits. “I’m a waiter in a Chinese restaurant in Falkirk and it helps pay my petrol money as I’ve just passed my driving test,” he said.

At 6ft 1in, he’s built like his dad, who, unsurprisingly, has been his only coach. “When I was younger I felt a bit of pressure when he came to events to watch me, but I’ve matured a bit and don’t get bothered by that any more,” said Craggs.

Ferguson, his next opponent, admitted he’d found it “horrible” to be playing Cameron Kirkwood, his Bearsden clubmate and near neighbour, on such a big stage. Ferguson, the third seed, birdied the last to come out on top and his voice was tinged with emotion afterwards.

“That was so hard,” admitted the 17-year-old, who went from two up after six to three down with five to play before chipping in from 25 yards for a birdie at the 15th. “There’s always a fair bit of banter flying around when we play together but there couldn’t be any of that today in such a serious event.”

Last year, Neil only needed 67 holes to reach this stage. He’s done it in two holes less this time around but isn’t getting carried away after seeing his earlier good work 12 months ago unhinged by a last-green defeat by Scott. “Me against Ewan is the final everyone in Scottish golf wants to see, but there’s not a bad player left in the last eight,” said the 17-year-old from Blairgowrie.

Relieved to shake off a “real fighter” in Williamwood’s Fraser Davren in the fifth round, Neil added: “It all comes down now to who wants it the most. Everybody should believe they can get to the final and win.”

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Scott was taken the distance in his afternoon match and had to produce a wonder shot to come out on top against Andrew Burgess from Nairn. A pushed tee shot at the last put him in tree trouble and, while it wasn’t quite a Bubba Watson-style effort, his recovery was still a strong contender for shot of the week.

“I had 230 yards to the pin and hit a wee low cut with a 5-iron that probably ran 100 yards and scampered on to the green,” he reported. “I probably got a bit lucky with the lie but it was certainly pleasing to pull off a shot like that at such an important time.”

His next opponent almost didn’t start the event. Easton, a 16-year-old who is trying to become the first Irvine player to claim the title since Alan Tait in 1986, suffered a hand injury in a fall three weeks ago and feared his title hopes might be killed off without striking a blow in anger.

“I was told by my doctor that I’d probably need to rest for six weeks,” said Easton, who covered the 14 holes he needed to take care of eighth seed Calum Hill in a respectable one-under in the bright but breezy conditions.

“That was three weeks ago but, after not hitting any balls for ten days, I decided to test it out and I didn’t feel any pain in my practice round.”

On locking horns with Scott, Easton, who has either won convincingly or scraped through in extra time in all his matches so far, added: “I’ll just need to see how it goes but he might well underestimate me.”

Walker, another Ayrshireman, holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th as he won a battle of attrition with the seeded Alan Waugh. “It was tough out there, especially the first six holes into the wind,” said Walker, a 17-year-old who lives in Troon but plays his golf at Barassie.

“Putting has probably been my main strength so far this week and it was nice to hole the one at the 17th.”