Wright and Locke share lead in ASI Scottish Open qualifier at Longniddry
07 Jul 18
is on course to maintain his 100 per cent record in Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open qualifiers after setting the pace in the 36-hole shoot-out for the second year running.
Bidding to make it four successes in a row in the event, the 36-year-old West Linton PGA professional carded a three-under-par 65 on a fast-running Longniddry course to share the lead with 19-year-old amateur Sam Locke.
Playing in the final group, Locke matched Wright's effort to give himself a great chance of repeating his success in a qualifier at the nearby Renaissance Club earlier in the week for the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie.
No less than 11 players are a shot behind the two leaders, including former European Tour card holders Craig Lee, Jamie McLeary and Peter Whiteford, as well as double M&H Logistics Scottish PGA Championship winner Chris Kelly.
Four spots are up for grabs in next week's $7 million Rolex Series event at Gullane and Wright is determined to book his berth alongside the likes of Masters champion Patrick Reed, world No 3 Justin Rose and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
Sticking to a gameplan that involved hitting just one driver all day, the recent Northern Open winner signed for three birdies - at the fourth, 15th and 17th - in a bogey-free effort.
"It was tricky, bouncy, and you had to be patient out there," said Wright, who opened with a 64 at Barassie 12 months ago to lead by four shots and went on to win that event. "I was just one-under through turn, having hit a lot of good golf shots and getting it close.
"On the occasions I've played down here in the past, it's never been like this. In fact, I was hitting 7 and 8-irons off the tee at par-4s today so that I was staying short of trouble.
"I think it is better hitting a longer club in off the fairway than going with a driver and putting it in the rough. My caddie, Chris Murphy, kept me in check a couple of times when I wanted to hit different clubs and there was just no need.
"We came up with a gameplan and it's a case of sticking to that even though it's hard convincing yourself to hit 5 and 7-irons off tees at holes that are 430 yards long. I hit one driver off the tee - at the 15th - and I could probably have hit a 5-iron there."
On his success in this event, having passed the test at North Berwick and Moray as well as Barassie, he added: "I think the reason I've done well is a desire to play at a higher level more than anything. I can also stay at home and, of course, I played most of my junior golf on courses down on this coast."
Locke (pictured above), who is riding on the crest of a wave after winning that Open qualifier with rounds of 69 and 66, holed a 15-footer at the last to tie with Wright at the halfway stage but bemoaned how he'd putted prior to that.
“I hit it really well today, but I just didn’t putt that great," said the Stonehaven player, who is mentored by Paul Lawrie. "There’s been a lot going on since my win on Tuesday, but I couldn’t wait to get back competing. I played well tee to green so hopefully I’ll have a few more putts dropping in the second round.
"I’m feeling confident - I’m feeling in control, which is a nice feeling. So if I can get a few more putts going in, I should be in.”
Lee (pictured below), who also played in the 2015 event at Gullane won by Rickie Fowler, surprised himself with a 66 that contained five birdies as he's come out of semi-retirement to try his luck in this event.
"That was only my fourth game since October," said the 41-year. "I’d packed it in and have been doing other things so I just don’t have the time now to play golf. If I was going to play anything, though, I was going to play this.
"So that round was a pleasant surprise. I’ve got a brand new set of Mizuno clubs in the bag – I was taking the plastic wrappers off as I was going round. I didn’t have a clue how far half the clubs would go."
Lee's last event was the Valderrama Masters in October on the European Tour, having occupied a seat at that table for five seasons - he finished a career-best 59th in the Race to Dubai in 2013 - before losing his card by a spot at the end of the 2016 campaign.
"I’d love to be there, I really would," he said of having given himself a chance of making a return to his old stomping ground. "It would be the only level that I’d like to play golf at again.
"I really struggled to play on the Challenge Tour because my wrist just isn’t strong enough to practice as hard as I’d need to. So just to play the odd event on the main tour would be ideal for me.
"Then I could give myself a few moths to recover and then play another one but whether that’s going to happen or not, we’ll wait and see. We'll find out quite how permanent class is tomorrow.
"We could start with this one and see if it could snowball from here. But I’d love to be back out there, and especially with it being at Gullane too next week – that composite course is tremendous."
McLeary, a two-time winner on the Challenge Tour, made the most of his local knowledge in a round that started with 10 straight pars before he made three birdies in six holes then dropped his only shot of the day at the last.
"I practice here, so this is my unofficial home club so I know how to play the course and I was actually hoping that it was a bit windier and trickier because then it’s more about whether you know the place or not," said the 37-year-old.
"I’m a bit disappointed that it’s not a bit more challenging and also because it’s so dry, everyone is just hitting 2-irons. I feel like the way it is, there’s not much you need to know about the golf course, it’s straight in front of you so I’m a bit disappointed with that.
"I’m happy with the way I played although I didn’t hole anything the entire way round – all my birdies were tap-ins."
Others to open with 66s were Daniel Young (Kingsbarns Pro Academy), Ian Graham (Crow Wood), James Steven (Pumpherston), John Henry (Clydebank & District), Conor O'Neil (Mearns Castle Golf Academy) and Ryan Campbell (Falkirk).
Young posted his 66 in the first match out, recovering from being two-over after six to birdie the eighth, ninth, 11th and 16th.
"It was an interesting day," admitted the 27-year-old from Perth who won the South African Amateur Championship in 2015. "I had my C game at best from tee to green, but my short game and putting made my score possible.
"The course is playing pretty scoreable if you are in the fairways as you can control your approaches. I just happened to be in the semi a lot, so had a few flyers and wasn’t able to control my approaches a lot of the time.
"I’m pretty happy with two-under as it was a very untidy, scrambling sort of day out there for me."
The pick of Graham's five birdies was a holed bunker shot for a 2 at the 16th. "I hit it solid today," said the 35-year-old, who has played his golf at Crow Wood since he was 12 and took over as head pro there nine years ago.
"I holed some good putts towards the end, including a 24-footer left to right dowhill at the 14th, and also holing a bunker shot at the 16th after short-siding myself.
"I've been hitting the ball well this season but not scoring too well. Today's score related more to how I have been hitting it. It would be amazing if I could get into the Scottish Open - the members would love it."
Steven, who finished runner-up in the recent Scottish Young Pros' Championship, undid some of his earlier good work by running up a double-bogey 6 at the 18th.
"I didn’t really hit any bad shots until I came to the last," said the 24-year-old. "I overshot the green and three putts later it was a double.
"I’ve not played in this before, this is my first time. This is a great opportunity for us guys, so you’ve really got to play well at the right time."