Scottish Open: Doak on top in battle of locals

A delighted Chris Doak raises his cap in celebration of another fine round. Picture: SNS
A delighted Chris Doak raises his cap in celebration of another fine round. Picture: SNS
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A TALE of two Scots, one, Chris Doak, wearing a flat cap and a smile, the other, Richie Ramsay, a hair shirt and a self-loathing frown.

Doak was the man of the day in the second round of the Scottish Open, backing up his 66 on Thursday with another 66 yesterday to go to the top of the leaderboard on 12-under, leaving some of the tournament’s stellar names in his wake, none more so than Ernie Els, the Open champion.

Els finished ten strokes behind the Scot, but the more relevant number as far as the South African is concerned is 65, as in the number of miles back up the road to his digs at Skibo Castle, where he will remain today having missed the cut. Els bemoaned his inability to read the subtle breaks on the greens. “I had no idea, so I’m glad I’m leaving,” he said, while playing down fears that his putting is a problem ahead of Muirfield. “The Muirfield greens are so different. They’re a lot more traditional links. I had two awkward days. It’s not always nice to leave halfway through, but hopefully I brought something to the tournament, maybe brought some more people through the gate.”

Under the searing heat there was something of a bonfire of the Claret Jug brigade. Darren Clarke has gone, so has Padraig Harrington and Sandy Lyle. There were five Open champions in the field at the start and only Paul Lawrie remains and Lawrie only made it by the skin of his teeth on the mark at 4-under.

Those guys were angry to miss out, but their demeanours were as nothing when compared with that of the second Scot, the anti-Doak if you will. Richie Ramsay had enough demons in his head from last weekend when he shot 82 in the final round of the French Open, but he’s got plenty more spooking him now after an horrific experience in the flat-calm of yesterday morning. “You could have thrown it round in 75 with no clubs,” he said of the benign conditions. Ramsay shot 78 and was so furious with himself that he was struggling to get the words out. “It was just horrific,” he said. “The worst day of the year for me. I’ve just to get better. I mean, I can’t describe my round without swearing, to be honest. So there’s no point in saying anything. It’s a waste of time. I might as well get a job somewhere else if I continue like this. I don’t want to say any more.”

In fairness to Ramsay, he stood and spoke until he could speak no longer, until he took himself away for fear of saying something he might later regret about the state of his game. This was angst-ridden stuff. “It was just a tough start,” he said, of the triple bogey seven on the tenth hole, his first of the day. “Just one stupid mistake cost me three shots. Then I got really unlucky on the 17th, plugged, and had to hit out backwards. It was plugged against the lip and I couldn’t get a stance so I had to hit out backwards. I couldn’t go left because there’s lots of hazards, so I went backwards and I hit the side of the bunker and the ball went into the water and I took triple from there.”

Two triples and one bogey in an outward nine of 43 shots. God himself could not rescue things from there. Ramsay is playing at Muirfield next week and some amount of work to do in the meantime. “The problem is upstairs. I need to get my head sorted.”

Doak’s head, meanwhile, is in the right place. He’s not seeing any danger out there, only opportunity. When you play like he’s been playing then the game must seem easy; 66, 66, what’s the fuss? “It’s phenomenal,” he said. “You start the week thinking you want to go low, but to actually do it is fantastic.”

Like yesterday, Doak got off to a flyer, picking up three birdies in his first six holes to ensure that karma of Thursday was maintained through Friday. He was just so calm, so effortless almost. He birdied 11, eagled 12 and when he dropped a shot on 17 he got it back on 18. Of course, we are entering a different dimension now having made the weekend. The pressure becomes more of a factor. The possibility of tightening up when in front becomes real, but to listen to Doak you’d think that all he’s doing out there is going for a stroll and hitting some shots in a stress-free zone. Maybe he’s managed to trick his mind into playing it all down. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Doak is playing beautifully.

Two things – or two people – have helped him, no question. Bob Torrance’s advice is coming to fruition and also his work with somebody on the mental side is reaping rewards. “It’s fantastic. I had that cheeky wee eagle on the back nine again (he did the same on Thursday) which definitely helps. I feel it has been coming all year but maybe I just haven’t been able to put it all together. It helps that Bob is here. He’s not at many tournaments now, so it helps, it makes a difference. I’ve worked with Bob over the last four or five years and it’s been great to have him at tournaments. I don’t really have a psychologist, just a guy who knows a lot more than I do. He’s not a professional, he’s just studied a bit for a few years. I’ve done a lot with him over the last years. It’s kind of a private thing. Bob is really good at the mental side as well, the way he puts things over.”

It’s been a long road for Doak, a multiple winner of the Order of Merit on the Tartan Tour who then made the main tour only to lose his card at the first time of asking in 2009. “I was still wet behind the ears. The Challenge Tour definitely taught me how to play golf for four rounds and travel. It takes time, as I keep getting told. It’s a tough environment. There’s a lot of great players and you’ve got to be consistent because there’s not as much money up for grabs. Hopefully it’s coming together now.”

And how does he think he can win on Sunday. “By not talking about it,” he said, with a smile. “That’s up to each and every individual, nothing for me to comment on. It’s going to be down to me if I’m still in position.”

There’s a huge road to travel before he gets to that point and a long way back to Glasgow, too. Especially since his fiancée is away with their car and he’ll be left to go home by train on Sunday night. What if he has a gleaming trophy to carry with him? “Maybe I’ll need to speak to courtesy car people.”

Today is just another day’s golf, he said. If he can keep that relaxed mindset, then who knows what lies ahead of him in the coming rounds. “I’m looking forward to it and I’ll be keeping that attitude regardless of what way it goes. I mean, you can’t be angry looking at that view on the golf course, so that’s what I keep looking at.”

The Moray Firth can inspire a man, right enough. Nobody more so than the Scot on route 66.