East of Scotland champion Stuart McLaren is trying to make the most of a final fling with golf this season by winning a Scottish cap before work and marital duties take precedence, and the Scottish Amateur seems a good place to do it.
The 24-year-old, who won his second career Order of Merit event at Lundin in June, is one of a pair of Bruntsfield Links players who topped the qualifiers at Crail this week with a 61 on a Balcomie Links securing the top seeding for the matchplay stages which start on the Craighead Links today.
Despite a trickier wind yesterday the scoring frenzy in the qualifying stages continued, with another 60 on the Balcomie, two six-under 66s on the Craighead and a leading cumulative score of 12-under from McLaren.
He didn’t have a birdie putt outside 12 feet among his nine in total but admitted he “rode his luck a little at times” on his way to the 61 to add to his 68 on the Craighead on Tuesday.
“There were a couple of little hops away from bunkers, and you don’t want to be in them around that course,” said McLaren, a pensions adviser with Royal London in Edinburgh. “But the one bad shot I had resulted in the one bogey, so I got what I deserved.”
McLaren gets married later this year and made a deal with his other half to give the amateur golf season a real go this summer in the hope he could get his first Scotland cap in the Home Internationals in September.
“I’d decided to give it everything this season as it’s the last “clear” one I’ll have, what with getting married and my job, and the target was to get into the Homes, and I don’t think I’m doing too badly so far,” said McLaren, who as well as winning the East at Lundin reached the final of the Lothians County championship only to lose in a play-off.
Former Scottish Boys champion Eric McIntosh, also from Bruntsfield, shared second with Scotland international Darren Howie, younger brother of the Challenge Tour player Craig.
McIntosh, a student at Northwestern University in Chicago – the former base of Luke Donald – made four birdies in a row and five in the space of seven holes on the Craighead to go level with Howie. The Peebles player could have had the lead to himself had he not wound down knowing he had qualified comfortably and bogeyed the final two holes on the Craighead.
The second 60 of the qualifying came from Michael Smyth of Royal Troon, a 33-year-old tour operator who is now 28-under for his last six competitive rounds.
Euan McIntosh, looking to be the first man to defend the title since Charlie Green in the early 1980s, came storming back from the disappointing one-over 73 that left him well outside the cut to making it comfortably thanks to a 62 on the Balcomie, moving 99 places up the leaderboard as a result.
“I actually played no different yesterday to today, but I thought about a 59 at one point,” he admitted. “I had an eagle putt at the 12th and gave it a right run because I knew if I made that, I had a chance.
“Despite what happened at Blairgowrie 12 months ago, I am normally hopeless at match-play, so we will wait and see what happens.”
Other notable qualifiers included former champion Callum Macaulay, the New Club’s John Paterson – despite a 77 on the Craighead yesterday – and the former Scottish Boys’ champion from Carnoustie, Will Porter.
Two of the Graham clan made it through to the last 64, Scotland Under-16 international Gregor, who added a par 72 to his first round 63 on the Balcomie, and dad Stuart.
Stuart’s 71 on the Craighead meant he won the family bragging honours for the day at least, with 12-year-old Connor shooting a two-over 71 on the Balcomie Links to finish with a four-over total.