Scott Henry on course to regain Tour card in Oman

Scotland's Scott Henry of Scotland plays his second shot into the 16th green en route to a 69 at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final at the Almouj Golf Club in Muscat, Oman.  Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images
Scotland's Scott Henry of Scotland plays his second shot into the 16th green en route to a 69 at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final at the Almouj Golf Club in Muscat, Oman. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images
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THREE Scots are sitting in card-winning positions after the opening round of the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Oman.

But only Scott Henry out of that trio had reason to be pleased with his day’s work on the Greg Norman-designed course at Almouj Golf in Muscat.

Sitting 10th coming into the season-ending event, Andrew McArthur had just one birdie as he signed for a three-over-par 75 to sit 41st in a 45-man field.

Last in that is 11th-ranked Jamie McLeary after he stumbled to a 78 that saw him drop three shots in the opening two holes then fritter away five more on the closing two.

The efforts resulted in both McArthur and McLeary dropping a spot in the projected rankings, but Henry was up six spots to 14th on the list after finding his form again at the perfect time with a three-under 69.

The 28-year-old, who is bidding to get back on the European Tour after a two-year absence, started with a bogey but then reeled off three birdies in a row from the second.

Henry, who’d missed the cut in four out of the last five regular season events after finishing runner-up in the Madeira Islands Open in August, also picked up shots back-to-back at the 12th and 13th.

He was unlucky not to make a hole-in-one at the latter, where his ball went into the cup on the second bounce only to come back out again.

“The bogey wasn’t the start I was looking for but to make three birdies straight after was the perfect response and from then on I played pretty nicely,” said Henry, who is sitting joint-sixth.

“I hit some really nice shots and that was definitely a lot better than I have been playing.”

The 2012 Kazakhstan Open winner probably needs to finish fifth or sixth to still be sitting inside the top 15 on Saturday night.

But he added: “I don’t see point aiming for fifth or sixth. I’ve got to play as well as I can to get into contention and chase down a win.”

Needing to either win or finish second after coming into the event sitting 37th, George Murray was the only other Scot in a five-strong Scottish contingent to break par with a two-under 70.

“I didn’t play that well, to be honest,” admitted the Fifer, who made his score with three birdies on the trot from the 12th. “The difference today was that I putted well, which has been my Achilles’ heel all year.”

Murray finished 81st in the Race to Dubai in 2011 before losing his card at the end of the following season and has spent the last two years on the second-tier circuit.

“My long game has been better than it has ever been this season,” said the former Scottish Amateur champion. “It’s been my chipping and putting that I’ve been struggling with, which is strange for me.”

The last man into the event, Peter Whiteford opened with a 73, a few more than he was looking for as the Fifer bids to secure the win he needs to get into the card-winning zone.

“It’s a pathetic score as it was easy out there,” said Whiteford, who lost his European Tour card 12 months ago.

“I didn’t hit the ball very well, but it’s a work in progress at the moment as I’m trying to make some changes to my swing.”

While he certainly wasn’t expecting to return to the Challenge Tour and shoot the lights out in every event, the 35-year-old has been disappointed with his form this season.

“I’ve played awful this year,” added Whiteford. “In fact, I’ve felt embarrassed to be out on the golf course at times.”

McArthur, who was four-over with three to play before making his sole gain against par at the 16th, hurt his ankle earlier in the week.

“I rolled it on Monday night after missing a step in the hotel. It was black and blue and came up like a tennis ball on the side of my ankle,” he said.

“The Challenge Tour physio did a great job but I felt quite apprehensive for the first few holes this morning.

“It’s frustrating as I came here playing well, but I got behind after a couple of loose shots today and that’s not what you want on this course.”

McLeary, who chalked up his third Challenge Tour title triumph in Belgium back in June, battled back from his poor start to be level-par with four to play.

But, after dropping a shot at the 15th, he then lost a ball at the 17th to take 7 there before finishing with a 6 after missing the green on the left.

“I didn’t play as bad as 78,” he declared afterwards. “In fact, I felt I played about level-par.

“I only hit four bad shots, but they all ended up in bad places. It’s a cruel game at times.”

Blaming a loss of confidence with his putter for adding pressure to the other parts of his game, McLeary added: “If there was a cut, I’d be packing my bags but fortunately there’s not and I’ve still got three rounds to come.”

In benign conditions beside the Oman Sea, Dane JB Hansen set the pace with a six-under-par.

But breathing down his neck, just a shot behind, is Road to Oman leader Ricardo Gouveia from Portugal after he opened with a flawless effort.

“I hit the ball really well today and holed a few good putts to keep my momentum going,” said Gouveia, who is two shots in front of his closest challenger on the money-list, Frenchman Sebastian Gross.