AS ENGLISHMAN Gary Boyd took the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge by the scruff of the neck following a second successive 64 at Macdonald Spey Valley, home duo Ross Kellett and Andrew McArthur revealed differing gameplans in their quest to earn a place at the top table in European golf.
For Kellett, the leading Scot at the halfway stage, albeit sitting seven shots adrift of Boyd as the Silverstone man raced away from the field after signing off with three birdies for the second day in a row in Aviemore, it’s a case of tunnel vision.
The 27-year-old Motherwell man hasn’t entered next week’s qualifying for either the Scottish Open or Open Championship. For the time being, his focus is firmly on the Challenge Tour and nothing is going to distract him. It was the same when Kellett cut his professional teeth on the third-tier Alps Tour. Three years ago, he turned down an invitation for the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and won the Montecchia Open in Italy the same week.
“I want to control my own destiny,” he revealed after signing for five birdies in his second-round 67 for a seven-under-par halfway total on Speyside. “I am missing Open qualifying [at Glasgow Gailes on Tuesday]. I’m going to Germany on Monday night so I can have a good week of preparation [for next week’s Challenge Tour event]. I am not doing Scottish Open qualifying either because I would miss Slovakia.”
Helped by a top-ten finish in Madrid earlier in the season, Kellett is sitting 75th on the Challenge Tour money list and wants to give himself the best possible chance to climb into the top 15 at the end of the second-tier circuit’s “Road to Oman”.
“It’s about priorities,” he added. “It would be great to play in The Open, especially at St Andrews, but hopefully there are many years of that to come. I can control things out here and I’ll stick to that. If I go and miss my card by 50 Euros because I was jumping about or my preparation wasn’t good I wouldn’t be over happy. I have proved to myself over the years that sticking by one thing has stood me in good stead. I have a good coach in Ian Rae and we speak a lot about scheduling and he’s well behind me to stick to these decisions.”
I have proved to myself over the years that sticking by one thing has stood me in good steadRoss Kellett
McArthur, on the other hand, doesn’t mind jumping back and forth between the European Tour and the Challenge Tour and said his reason for a more open-minded approach is simple. “I feel as though I play better when I’m playing in bigger events,” declared the 36-year-old after moving into the top 15 on five-under following a 67 that contained eight birdies, including a chip in from 25 yards at the 15th.
“Take last year, for instance, I was really struggling on the Challenge Tour then made the cuts in both the Irish and French Opens. That made me realise that it maybe wasn’t quite as difficult as I was trying to make it. It gives me confidence coming back to the Challenge Tour when I’ve played well on the European Tour.”
The former Scottish Amateur champion joked that a “couple of 63s” over the weekend would probably deliver a welcome win in the Highlands. Even that won’t be good enough if Boyd keeps his foot on the pedal. In short, the 28-year-old has made it look ridiculously easy so far and is on course to shatter compatriot Andrew Johnston’s record winning aggregate of 19-under-par 12 months ago.
In a flawless effort, Boyd picked out a six-foot par putt at the 14th as the catalyst for his strong finish, which was topped off by an approach to six inches at the last. “I probably wouldn’t have finished the way I did if I hadn’t holed that putt,” he said. Every aspect of his game has been impressive for two days. “I’m quietly confident,” said Boyd. “I feel the game is in good shape and I have won from the front before [in the Kenya Open six years ago] so hopefully this can be my week. I feel I am a better player than I was before just because of the experiences I have been through. I have had a lot of lows and obviously now the highs are starting to come back.” Admitting on Thursday that he’d played “rubbish” during a two-and-a-half year slump, his confidence has come flooding back. “When I was playing my worst golf all I could see was bad shots, but when the game comes back a bit you start attacking flags and not being defensive,” said Boyd, who holds a four-shot lead over compatriot Robert Coles, with a third Englishman, Max Orrin, a stroke further back.
From a 30-strong starting contingent, only six Scots survived as the halfway axe fell. On his Challenge Tour debut, The Renaissance Club’s Neil Henderson made it on two-under, as did Ayrshire amateur Jack McDonald, with a brace of 70s, and Elliot Saltman, though a 74 to follow an opening 66 dropped the Archerfield Links player down the leaderboard. Late in the day, Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest holed a 15-foot par putt at his final hole to make it on the same mark. Jamie McLeary, the 2009 winner here, missed out by a shot despite a birdie at his final hole while it was a deflating professional debut for Bradley Neil. After running up a quintuple-bogey 9 at the ninth, his penultimate hole, the Blairgowrie teenager finished on eight-over – 22 shots behind Boyd.