BRING it on. That was effectively the war cry from Scott Henry last night as the 28-year-old prepared for a day of destiny in his bid to get back where many believe he belongs – at the top table in European golf.
With a round to go in the NBO Challenge Tour Grand Final at Almouj Golf in Muscat, Henry is lying joint-14th, three shots behind five joint-leaders – Englishmen Callum Shinkwin and James Robinson, Spaniard Nacho Elvira, Jens Dantorp from Sweden and Dane Joachim B Hansen. In the more important money-list standings, the Scot is sitting on 22nd on the projected list, having started the event in 20th, jumping to 14th, thereby in the card-winning zone after the first round, only to lose ground over the last two days.
In truth, it’s almost unfathomable to work out exactly what the Clydebank man needs to do today – apart from a win, of course, as that would be job done no matter what – and there will be twists and turns aplenty to come on a nerve-shredding last day.
It’s certainly not a place for the faint-hearted, but Henry, who came agonisingly close to retaining his European Tour card in his rookie season on that circuit in 2013, is licking his lips at what lies ahead. “I’m looking forward tomorrow,” he declared. “I relish playing in that sort of pressure.”
As a strengthening wind off the Oman Sea wreaked havoc on this excellent Greg Norman-designed course, the 2012 Kazakhstan Open winner got to within one shot of the lead as he stood on six-under with two holes to play before signing off with a brace of bogeys.
“I’m disappointed to have finished the way I did, but didn’t feel I did much wrong today. In fact, I felt I played better than my score,” he added. “I hope it’s another day like this tomorrow. It would sort the men from the boys and it makes it easier to jump up if you do shoot a good score.”
Having missed four cuts in five events coming into this test of nerve, character and resolve, Henry has given a good account of himself so far and certainly has the game to secure that return to the main circuit.
“I played good all day and managed my ball well,” he said. “I didn’t make a few up and downs but also made a few nice putts. If you asked me to play it again and gave me level par, I’d take it. I’m still in contention, which is all I can ask for after the way I’d been playing coming into this.”
Despite not playing nearly as well as they’d been hoping, both Andrew McArthur (13th on the projected list) and Jamie McLeary (15th) are still where they need to be at the finish heading into the last circuit of the season. “It is nice to be in and I still feel I can shoot five or six-under to put me in a position where I’ll be fine,” said McArthur after signing for a second straight 71 to jump 14 spots to joint-24th on one-over.
For McLeary, it’s definitely a feeling of deja vu. Two years ago, he secured the 15th and final card, though in totally different circumstances. “I was the one coming from behind then,” said the 34-year-old Marriott Dalmahoy man of needing to finish joint-second in the Grand Final and doing so. “I’d rather be where I am just now, to be honest. I prefer to be on the inside looking out than the opposite way around.”
Given that they both need to claim the £46,000 top prize, Fifers Peter Whiteford and George Murray both look to be heading to the final stage of the Qualifying School in Spain next month after their hopes of getting into the mix on moving day were undone by matching 77s. “After hitting my tee shot at the first out of bounds, I played terrible today,” admitted Whiteford, who is alongside McArthur on one-over. Disappointed that he’d been unable to cash in on windy conditions he loves, a typically forthright Murray, who is a stroke further back, declared: “I just played s**** today.”
In contrast, Shinkwin, who defeated recent British Masters winner Matt Fitzpatrick in the final of the 2013 English Amateur Championship, played his socks off in conditions described by Dave McNeilly, his vastly-experienced caddie, as “savage” to card a joint best-of-the-day 66 as the 22-year-old Londoner stormed into contention for a first professional win.
In the battle to be this season’s Challenge Tour No 1, it is still advantage to Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia, but a damaging run just before the turn that saw him spill five shots has left his closest challenger, Frenchman Sebastian Gross, just two shots behind heading into what promises to be a fascinating final round.