“It is going to be strange playing against Connor,” admitted 21-year-old Peebles player Howie after the duo went unbeaten in the foursomes in Chantilly, “but I am looking forward to it. Connor is obviously playing great, but I’m ready for it.” On paper, Drumoig man Syme is the slight favourite, with the higher world ranking of the pair and also having claimed the Australian Amateur Championship earlier in the season in this head-to-head format.
That said, the Aberdeen air clearly brings out the best in his opponent. Howie, after all, won the Scottish Boys at neighbouring Murcar Links four years ago.
“The north-east has been good to me,” he acknowledged, with a twinkle in his eye, after recovering from one down with four to play to beat 47-year-old Turnhouse man Euan McIntosh. “So hopefully it will bring me luck again this week.”
Syme, who helped Great Britain & Ireland retain the St Andrews Trophy in Kent a week ago, had failed in three previous attempts to make it to the last 16 in this event.
He’s already a stage further thanks to five polished performances thus far on easily one of the best courses in the country.
“I came here this week trying to get a monkey off my back and, having overcome that little hurdle, I’m happy to be in the quarter-finals,” he admitted, having found himself promoted to top seed after both Grant Forrest and Ewen Ferguson pulled out.
Not since Charlie Green achieved the feat at Gullane in 1983 has a player made a successful defence of this title. Glenruitten left-hander Robert MacIntyre is just three wins away from pulling off the trick, though, and produced his best performance of the week so far to beat Graeme Robertson, the 2014 beaten finalist from Glenbervie.
“I was struggling a bit in last week’s St Andrews Trophy,” admitted 19-year-old MacIntyre, who lost in the final of the Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl last month. “But I’m back in the swing of things now and it’s exactly the same here as it was at Muirfield 12 months ago – if you hit fairways and greens you are going to be hard to beat.”
He now meets Elderslie’s Alasdair McDougall, a two-time Tennant Cup winner and semi-finalist in the 2012 British Boys’ Championship. The 21-year-old, who finished second behind Syme in the qualifying for the Amateur Championship in Wales, will continue his title challenge today just a week after being rushed into hospital.“I was taken into the accident and emergency department at Paisley Royal Alexandra last Thursday night and ended up having an abscess removed,” revealed McDougall. “I had to have a general anaesthetic and when I came out of hospital, I spent two days at home. I did not think I was going to be able to play, but decided to come up anyway and give it a go.”
While the form book points to the winner coming out of the Syme-Howie and MacIntyre-McDougall matches, Jeff Wright (Rothes), Andrew Burgess (Nairn), Malcolm Pennycott (Royal Burgess) and George Duncan (Windyhill) will all be aiming to prove otherwise after playing equally well so far to be the others still standing.