Michael Stewart defies wicked winds to notch priceless par in qualifier

Michael Stewart kept his head while many around him were no doubt losing theirs during a testing opening qualifying round in the 116th Amateur Championship over the tough Hillside links in Southport yesterday.

With a boisterous wind sending scores soaring on England's golf coast - Danish player Kasper Sorensen had a ruinous 92 at nearby Hesketh - Troon golfer Stewart unleashed his driver only twice as he plotted his way to a hard-earned level-par 72.

"This was a day for keeping the head," said the 22-year-old, who polished his card with a raking putt from 40-feet for a birdie-three on the eighth. "It was very tough and it could've been easy to give up and put yourself completely out of it. I scrambled very well and I was getting up-and-down from everywhere. I only missed one putt from ten-feet all day and all in all it was very good round."

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Stewart, the winner of the South African Open title earlier this season, is easing himself back into action following a six-week spell on the sidelines with a niggling wrist injury. In a Walker Cup year, such a period of inactivity could have had a damaging effect on morale but the reigning Scottish champion has remained in chipper mood. "The six weeks out could've got to me but I've kept myself up and there was a real hunger to get back playing again," added Stewart, who finished four behind New Zealander Landyn Edwards, who came in late in the day with a fine 68. "I've already had a big win this season and hopefully that will help my Walker Cup chances and take some of the pressure off."

Greg Paterson, the winner of the Craigmillar Park Open back in April, joined Stewart in the upper reaches of the early standings with a 72 that was aided by a solid one-under inward half.

Following his Craigmillar success, the 24-year-old went off the boil for a spell due to a virus but a share of 14th in last weekend's St Andrews Links Trophy provided signs of a recovery. Adam Dunton of McDonald and Sandyhill's Mark Bookless both opened with steady 73s but James Byrne, runner-up in last year's final at Muirfield, struggled to a 78.

The 22-year-old, who holed an eight-footer on the 18th for his only birdie of a trying afternoon, now has little room for error today as he battles for one of the 64 matchplay spots on offer. "It was just one of those days when nothing went my way," he said. "I just have to hang in there and not give up."

On the other side of town, at Hesketh, Peterhead's Philip McLean made a positive start with a one-under 70, safeguarded by crucial par putts of ten-feet at both 14 and 15. McLean finished two behind Spanish pacesetter Adrian Otaegui, the winner of last year's British Boys' title at Barassie, who had a 68.

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