SCOTLAND could have as many as seven representatives in next year’s Masters if our golfing ‘Tartan Army’ can keep the foot on the pedal after a promising few months.
Three players – Sandy Lyle, Stephen Gallacher and Bradley Neil – are already all virtually assured of receiving coveted invitations for the season’s opening major at Augusta National.
Lyle, of course, will be there as a former winner; Gallacher is set to make his second successive trip up Magnolia Lane as a world’s top-50 player and Neil has earned his dream date as the current Amateur champion.
While that already makes it a bigger Scottish representation than this year, when Lyle and Gallacher flew the Saltire in Georgia, there’s a chance for us to really make the golfing world sit up and take notice about an exciting era starting to take shape in the game’s cradle.
Led by 36th-ranked Gallacher, Scotland now has four players inside the world’s top 100, with Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay and Russell Knox all having joined their compatriot in the game’s elite within the past couple of months.
Warren, sitting 67th, got there by capping a string of consistent displays in the summer with victory in the Made in Denmark event, while Ramsay, having finished in the top-20 in all of his five last outings, is 97th.
Sandwiched between that pair now is Knox, the Inverness exile having jumped 26 spots to 81st on the back of his third-place finish behind American Ben Martin in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas on Sunday.
To make it to Augusta, the goal for Warren, Knox and Ramsay is crystal clear. They’ve either got to be in the top 50 by the end of the year or the end of March, when the last of the invitations are handed out.
Is that possible? Of course it is. In the case of both Warren and Ramsay, they are gearing up for a “Final Series” on the European Tour that boasts a combined pot of £19 million.
One good week – the kind Finn Mikko Ilonen enjoyed as he leapt 15 spots to 37th on the back of winning the Volvo World Match Play Championship at the weekend – and it could easily be mission accomplished before Christmas.
The same goes for Knox, if he can maintain his form on the PGA Tour, though, in his case, it is more likely that the March cut-off will be his target as he probably won’t be playing in the four remaining regular tournaments on the PGA Tour before the end of the year, given that one is in Malaysia and another in Mexico.
It’s an exciting challenge for the trio and one they’re certainly all up to. Without wanting to sound disrespectful – they’ve got five European Tour triumphs between them, after all – the best is still to come from both Warren and Ramsay.
Knox, meanwhile, has developed extremely quickly into a polished performer on the PGA Tour, where he qualified for the FedEx Cup play-offs last season and has every intention of doing so once again based on his strong showing in Las Vegas.
It was there that the player with the best chance of making it a ‘Magnificent Seven’ for Scotland at Augusta National continued to show he’s on the road back after a 2014 season to forget.
Admittedly, Martin Laird will be a touch disappointed to have finished in a share of 18th at TPC Summerlin, having led after the opening round on the course where he made his PGA Tour breakthrough five years ago.
On the back of his third-place finish in the Frys.com Open the previous week, however, it was another indication that the Glaswegian is ready to start moving in the right direction again.
Sitting 128th, he has the most work on his hands to climb into the top 50 in the space of around five months. As a three-times PGA Tour winner, though, it’s a task that certainly isn’t beyond him.
To have listed seven Scots in such a way and not included either Paul Lawrie or Scott Jamieson seems inconceivable, especially when they were sitting 109th and 112th respectively in the world at the end of last year.
Both have slipped out of the top 200 in the past ten months so have damage to be repaired before they can start thinking about majors and WGCs again. But don’t for one minute rule that possibility out.
Lawrie, in particular, will be hurting like hell when he misses out on the aforementioned ‘Final Series’ so watch for him coming out with all guns blazing when the 2015 season gets under way.