Battling Bell Leads at Breezy Barassie
Ross Bell of Downfield will tomorrow chase his biggest-ever title after opening up a slender one-shot lead in the Carrick Neill Scottish Stroke Play Championship.
On a day when the wind gusted across the links of Kilmarnock (Barassie), Bell handled the conditions superbly to post an eight-under-par halfway total of 138 thanks to a 70.
An eagle on the par-5 8th was the highlight of his second round – a rescue club fired to 15 feet – as Bell moved to the front of the field while many others were blown off course.
Bell, bidding to become the first Scottish player to lift the coveted national title since Comrie’s Wallace Booth in 2008, won last year’s Leven Gold Medal and was the 2010 Champion of Champions victor.
He hopes those experiences will stand him in good stead for the final 36 holes tomorrow. “It was a tougher test than the first day with the wind gusting but I’m pleased to be where I am," he said. “I didn’t know any of the other scores until I came in as I’ve just been trying to play my own game.
"There are a lot of good international players here but I’ll just try to plug away and hope that it’s good enough.”
Bell holds a one-stroke advantage from a Frenchman, Lionel Weber. After winning the French Amateur Stroke Play Championship only last weekend, he is a man very much in form.
The 21-year-old, from Riedisheim in north-east France, has posted fine rounds of 69 and 70. He thurst himself into contention after four birdies in his last seven holes today.
Five players lurk on six-under-par, including Haydn Porteous. After his sparkling opening 65, he was 10 shots worse off in the tougher weather, but the teenage South African Stroke Play champion is still very much in the mix.
So too is SGU National Men’s Squad player Paul Shields (Kirkhill). The 21-year-old, joint-winner of the South African Northern Amateur Open in the spring and third in this event last year, is also on 140 after surging through the field with a flawless best-of-the-day 67 this morning.
“I kept the bogeys off the card and, all and all, it was a solid performance,” he said.
Also on six-under-par is the talented Australian Brett Drewitt. A poor finish saw him ‘only’ shoot level par 73 in the second round after his opening 67.
“It was a little bit harder today,” he said. “The wind was different and it was colder as well.
“I hit a couple of bad shots coming down the stretch. I made bogeys on 14 and 15, birdied 16 and then made a double on 17. The putter let me down a little. I’m still in it, though.”
Of those in the chasing pack at five-under-par are Scots Adam Dunton (McDonald Ellon) and Greig Marchbank (Dumfries & County).
Marchbank, the reigning SGU Boys’ Order of Merit champion, made two early birdies to take the lead midway through the second round but then “lost concentration on a couple of shots”.
The 17-year-old battled back for a 73 and added: "Anywhere around level par today I felt was good. It’s my first time in this event but I don’t see why I can’t challenge tomorrow. I’m playing well enough."
The top 40 players and ties made the cut for tomorrow’s final 36 holes, with 41 players progressing. The qualifying mark came at level par, meaning a number of leading names missed out.
They included the likes of 2011 SGU Men’s Order of Merit winner James White (Lundin), South African Amateur champion Brian Soutar (Leven GS), in-form pair Bradley Neil (Blairgowrie) and Ewan Scott (St Andrews) and two-time domestic winner in 2012, Fraser McKenna from Balmore, along with highly-rated South Africans Shaun Smith and Brandon Stone.
The third round starts at 7.30am tomorrow and spectators are reminded that entry is FREE.