EVEN by the standards of some of the God-awful days us golf scribes witnessed at Gleneagles before it became sun-kissed for the Ryder Cup, this one was probably the pits. Just ask Greig Hutcheon, who hemorrhaged 15 shots in nine holes on the King’s Course as the persistent rain and bitter cold took its toll on the Tartan Tour’s chieftain
From leading the Scottish PGA Championship, he suffered the most spectacular crash of his career. “I was standing seven-under-par on the seventh tee and I’m now eight-over with two holes to play,” reported the two-times winner as he gazed forlornly at his drookit scorecard, which included a quintuple-bogey 9 during that disastrous nine-hole run.
It came at the 14th, a driveable par-4 that Gareth Wright, the defending champion, described as “normally being a gimme birdie” for these boys. It’s a different proposition into an east wind, though. “I took a 3-iron from the tee for safety but lost it, took another 3-iron for safety and did the same thing, a third 3-iron and found the trees,” added Hutcheon of his escapade. “You couldn’t hold the club it was so cold.”
Even Paul Lawrie, the master of playing golf in a rain jacket, was happy to be back in the sanctuary of the Dormie House with a hot mug of something warming up his hands. “It was ridiculous out there,” he said. “It was freezing and my brolly broke.”
Another double champion, the Aberdonian was two-under for the day – three-under for the tournament – after 11 but then dropped three shots in two holes. “It was impossible by the time we got to the 12th,” he added, having possibly been left to rue the fact that it wasn’t until he’d teed off at the 14th that play was suspended.
By then, the field had been split into two in terms of how the weather had influenced their title hopes in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event, which carries a £50,000 prize pot as well as exemptions for the Scottish Open qualifier at North Berwick in July. Whereas Lawrie and Hutcheon got the short end of the stick, Chris Kelly and Paul McKechnie were among those dealt a favourable hand by Mother Nature following Sunday’s washout.
Kelly, the 2003 winner, was out in the first group on Monday so completed two rounds as PGA Scotland officials crammed as much play as possible into the one day they’ve had it dry so far. Helped by a 66 – it was built on a run of five birdies in six holes from the ninth – on his second circuit, the Team SSE Scottish Hydro player set the clubhouse target on three-under.
When play resumed at 7am yesterday, McKechnie had only three holes to play. He birdied two of them – the 16th and 18th – for a 69 to join Kelly in the lead then watched the weather get nasty as he headed home. One by one, the prospective challengers came up short as each of them looked more soaked than the previous one as they signed for their cards.
Play was halted at 11.30am then abandoned for the day at 3pm. Of the 28 returning this morning to complete their second rounds and the tournament after the decision was taken for it to be shortened to 36 holes – the first time since 1966 – only Lawrie has a chance of denying the two leaders. He needs to cover the last five holes in three-under to match their 139 totals, which, according to McKechnie, is certainly a possibility. “Paul will be trying like a bear when he comes back tomorrow, no doubt about it,” predicted the Braid Hills Golf Centre teaching professional. “If I was a betting man, I’d certainly be putting money on him as I know how good he is.”
The spoils were shared between John Panton and Eric Brown the last time the event was decided over a reduced distance, at Cruden Bay. If required, there will be a sudden-death play-off on this occasion. “I’m delighted to still be in with a chance of winning my national title,” admitted Kelly. “But there are lots of good player still on the course, so we will wait and see what happens.” By the sounds of things, he is also wary about what Lawrie can still achieve, bearing in mind, of course, he came from ten shots behind heading into the final round to become Open champion at Carnoustie in 1999.
It’s a pity, of course, to see this event end up being so abbreviated. But, with the weather proving so unhelpful and officials feeling it would be “impractical” to make a third-round draw after play finishes this morning then having to recall most players to the course, the best has been made of some bad breaks on this occasion.