Scots feel heat in final battle for Tour places

IN temperatures nudging into the 90s, the heat has been turned up on both Andrew McArthur and Jamie McLeary as the battle for graduation to the European Tour next season reaches boiling point.

Andrew McArthur lines up his putt on the fifth green at Almouj Golf Club yesterday. Picture: Getty Images

Having come into the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Oman lying tenth and 11th respectively on the money list, thereby in positions to make the step up to the main circuit, the duo’s good work earlier in the campaign is now in danger of being undone.

Sitting closer to the bottom of the leaderboard than the business end of it at the halfway point at Almouj Golf in Muscat, McArthur has slipped to 13th in the projected rankings and McLeary now occupies the 15th and final card-winning position.

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With Scotland’s third leading hopeful at the start of the season-ending event, Scott Henry, having dropped back to 20th following his climb of six spots on the first day, it’s difficult, really, to put a positive spin on things.

But, with two rounds to go and lots of hard work having been put in to get so tantalisingly close to the promised land, there’s no danger of any of them giving up the ghost just yet and some good old-fashioned Caledonian grit and determination can still see the campaign end with some tangible tartan reward.

“Hopefully two sub-par rounds can get the job done,” said McArthur after signing for a second-round 71 to sit joint 38th on two-over – 13 shots behind Joachim B Hansen after the Dane cemented his one-shot lead with a 67. “I’ll keep pottering away at it and hopefully I can hole a few more putts in the final two rounds.”

In fairness, the 36-year-old Glaswegian was struck by an untimely injury when he rolled his ankle slipping off a step here earlier in the week. It has forced him to try to keep the weight on his left side when hitting shots and he was clearly limping towards the end yesterday.

“I’ve not taken any ibuprofen and just realised that coming up the last… I must be brain dead,” he said, perhaps giving an indication of the impact this pressure-packed tournament has on the mind.

According to McLeary, he may already have left himself in a situation where he is now relying on what others do over the next two days. “I have a wee idea of who can knock me out of the top 15 and I’m in a position where I’m hoping for the best,” said the 34-year-old of sitting in a share of 43rd on five over after a 71.

“The damage was done by my opening 78, but the way I’m playing I can honestly see me throwing in a six-under or something similar. I really feel I can do that, but I need to see one or two putts dropping in a round as I’m just not getting any momentum going due to not holing putts.”

In contrast, they’ve been dropping all season and continued do so for Scott Henry, even though quite a few were for pars in a 69 that dropped him joint-sixth overnight to a share of 13th on four-under alongside Peter Whiteford. “My putting used to be the weakest part of my game but now it’s the strongest,” admitted Henry. “In fact, if it wasn’t for my putting this year, I’d have been nowhere near playing here.”

Having found a bush when taking an iron for safety from the first tee and then being unable to play as well as he had on day one, the 28-year-old was pleased with a gritty effort. “It was a grind out there in the heat and I’m tired so I’m pleased with that,” he added. “I feel like I’m running on fumes but I know that I can’t let up on any shot as the goal is so big. Some of the guys have scored well today, so I’m going to need a couple of good scores but not necessarily shooting the lights out.”

Whiteford’s five-under-par 67 was the joint second best effort of the day and catapulted him up 18 spots. Having been the last man in, however, and only improving five spots in the standings, the Fifer needs to land the £46,000 top prize tomorrow and reckons he requires “at least a couple more of that same score” to give himself that chance.

Thirty-ninth on the projected list after a 71 to sit joint 17th on three-under, another proud Kingdom man, George Murray, believes it’s time to be “gung-ho” in the final two rounds. “I think I’ll need to be a lot more aggressive now and give it a go,” he declared.