Craig Howie finds range as he fires to top spot

FEW people shoot the lights out at Carnoustie. Plenty, though, hit the target at neighbouring Barry Buddon. Or at least they seemed to be on a day when the sound of gunfire from the rifle range was a constant background noise during the second and final qualifying round for the 120th Amateur Championship.

Craig Howie ignored the distraction of Army shooting practice. Picture: SNS

“Barry Buddon is one of Scotland’s most important training facilities for the Army, and exercises are scheduled weeks in advance,” a spokeswoman said as round after round was fired by five squads of soldiers on this particular day, prompting one local to claim the situation was a “disgrace for a championship of this stature” as he popped his head into the media centre.

“We were made aware of the championship taking place at Carnoustie this week,” added the Army spokeswoman, “but it was impossible to change the schedules for what is a very busy and important period of training activity for both regular Army and for reservists.”

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In fairness, the golfers went about their own shooting without making a fuss over a distraction that, needless to say, is not a problem for their professional counterparts when the Open Championship is held at the Angus venue. “They were fairly at it – I thought there was a war going on,” said Craig Howie, half-joking, after the Peebles player had overcome the racket to card a five-under-par 67 as he finished top of the qualifying pile alongside Kiwi Ryan Chisnall on seven-under-par. “I did duck a couple of times,” added Yelverton’s Alfie Plant, whose 78 was 15 shots more than his opening effort – a course record – at Panmure but still made it through to the knock-out phase starting today.

Having dropped off the radar after winning the 2012 Scottish Boys Championship at Murcar Links, Howie is enjoying a welcome resurgence, coming into this event on the back of a third-place finish in the St Andrews Links Trophy. “I struggled with my game for a bit,” he admitted, though not in a round that was illuminated by an eagle – he pitched in from 30 yards at the 11th – and five birdies. “Mentally, I didn’t think I was good enough to compete at this level. But I started working with a new coach, Stewart Savage, in October and that, coupled with paying more attention to certain stats through the GolfData Lab has helped me get through my rough patch.”

Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson hasn’t encountered one of those thus far in his blossoming career. Watched by GB&I captain Nigel Edwards, the 18-year-old was also happy with his day’s work – a 71 at Carnoustie – as he qualified comfortably on one-under. “We were put on the clock a couple of times, but I kept my focus really well, hitting the right shot at the right time,” said Ferguson, who is bidding to become the first player since Sergio Garcia achieved the feat 17 years ago to add this title to the Boys Amateur Championship, having won that at Hoylake in 2013.

“Nigel watched me for 13 holes and hopefully he was impressed as I’ve wanted to play in the Walker Cup since I went to watch two of my friends, James Byrne and Michael Stewart, at Royal Aberdeen in 2011,” added Ferguson of his bid to make the team for this year’s event at Royal Lytham.

Howie and Ferguson are among eight Scots left standing, the others being Grant Forrest (Craigielaw), Greig Marchbank (Thornhill), Zander Culverwell (Dunbar), Robert MacIntyre (Glencruitten), Jack McDonald (Barassie) and Craig Ross (Kirkhill). “I know Carnoustie quite well and it suits my game,” declared Ross, who upstaged a field of professionals to win on the PGA EuroPro Tour at Mar Hall last summer.

He will need to produce another noteworthy effort to come out on top here as there is an abundance of talent sharpening their weapons for the head-to-head segment. Double European champion Ashley Chesters, for instance, and Swede Marcus Kinhult, who led after the two rounds in the recent Nordea Masters on the European Tour.

As the shooting started up again after a welcome lull, the cut fell at one over, with highly-rated Aussie duo Ryan Ruffels and Antonio Murdaca among the casualties, as well as St Andrews Links Trophy winner Federico Zucchetti from Italy.