Old boys Erskine and Sim impress at Duddy

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FORTYSOMETHINGS Alan Sim and Brian Erskine rolled back the years to be amongst the winners on the opening night of the Lothians Championship at Duddingston.

Twenty-seven years after qualifying for the event for the first time at the same venue, Broomieknowe’s Sim claimed a notable scalp in beating Steven Armstrong, the 2004 champion from Turnhouse.

“I missed a couple of putts early on but was pretty solid otherwise,” reported 43-year-old Sim after overcoming an unusual lost-ball incident.

“I was convinced it had been picked up by a guy out on the practice area but we couldn’t prove it and hadn’t found the ball by the time the five minutes were up,” he added.

“That was unfortunate but, thankfully, I was able to put it behind me and go on to record an excellent win.”

One down playing the last, Armstrong’s hopes of forcing extra holes went down the drain when he found himself blocked out by trees.

An ironic laugh showed exactly what he thought of that and he got a sore hand for trying - in vain - to squeeze a shot through the smallest of gaps.

Sim, who lost to Liberton legend Robert Jack in the quarter-finals on that debut in 1986, now meets Erskine in tomorrow’s second round.

Playing in the event for the “umpteenth time”, Merchants man Erskine proved too wily on the night for Musselburgh Old’s Nathan Free.

The 46-year-old made the perfect start by holing from 15 feet for an eagle at the first, birdied the third to win that and never looked back after turning with a three-hole cushion.

“It was steady stuff,” said Erskine, who is also a member at Ladybank and showed there is plenty of life in the old dog yet by winning the Fife Stroke-Play Championship last year.

Sim’s clubmate Jamie McIntosh suffered the curse of the Stuart Cup as the leading qualifier bowed out to Bathgate’s Scott McCandless.

“My putting was very good tonight,” admitted the 16-year-old, who has overcome a bout of crohn’s disease to become the latest promising product of his West Lothian club’s conveyor belt of talent.

A 20-footer for a birdie at the ninth was the pick of the putts rolled in by McCandless, who is coached at his club by Stuart Callan and was proudly wearing a Stephen Gallacher Foundation jacket.

His next opponent is 19-year-old Lee Morgan, who staved off a back-nine fightback from Carrickvale’s Thomas Beattie.

After spells at Newbattle and Swanston New, Morgan is now a member at Dunbar and admitted: “My game’s become a lot better through playing there.”

On a course looking great and playing fiery, too, two former winners suffered contrasting fortunes in the remaining four ties.

Kingsknowe’s Allyn Dick, the champion in 2010, proved too strong for Bathgate’s Graham Bell to set up a tasty clash with Musselburgh’s Benn McLeod.

But Keith Nicholson, the four-time winner from Haddington, lost in an all-East Lothian tussle with Chris Wood from North Berwick.

After being three down, Nicholson got it back to one before crucially clipping a tree with his approach at the 16th.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw I’d drawn Keith but, at the same time, it was a great opportunity to come up against someone who has won this event so often,” said Wood, a quarter-finalist 12 months ago.

He now meets Silverknowes star Graham Robertson, who raced to the turn in four-under 32 in accounting for Aaron McManus, a promising 15-year-old who was born in Edinburgh, now lives in Durham but plays most of his golf at Longniddry.

Results: First round: Chris Wood (North Berwick) bt Keith Nicholson (Haddington) 2 and 1. Graeme Robertson (Silverknowes) bt Aaron McManus (Longniddry) 3 and 2. Lee Morgan (Dunbar) bt Thomas Beattie (Carrickvale) one hole. Scott McCandless (Bathgate) bt Jamie McIntosh (Broomieknowe) 4 and 3. Brian Erskine (Merchants) bt Nahan Free (Musselburgh Old) 4 and 3. Alan Sim (Broomieknowe) bt Steven Armstrong (Turnhouse) two holes. Benn McLeod (Musselburgh) bt Stuart Blair (Royal Musselburgh) 2 and 1. Allyn Dick (Kingsknowe) bt Graham Bell (Bathgate) 4 and 3.