Edinburgh kingpins Colin Mitchell and Andrew Sneddon have strong enough profiles to be considered frontline contenders for the Singles title in the Bowls Scotland National Championships taking place at Ayr Northfield this week.
But it’s a major frustration that the luck of the draw has set them up for a second round confrontation if surviving Friday’s opening action, and world stage star Alex Marshall is also in close proximity.
Paul Foster of Troon Portland is another star in the 32-strong field of district champions and, if the sun continues to shine and his native greens run fast and true, then the 2004 champion looks like the one to beat.
Foster certainly comes into the championship with a strong endorsement from E&L skip Paul O’Donnell ringing in his ears following their clash in the Hamilton Trophy final at West Kilbride on Saturday.
“The guy was phenomenal with his inch-perfect drawing skills and on that performance must be the number one in the world,” said O’Donnell.
Mitchell is undaunted by reputation, having won the first of his five Tait Trophy triumphs as the underdog against Marshall in the final then went on to captain Scotland in the international arena and play in the Commonwealth Games.
The 40-year-old has a record 15 championship wins at Carrick Knowe on his CV and is hopeful that he can convert his fifth visit to Ayr in the Singles into a title-winning one.
Sneddon became Tanfield’s first ever Tait Trophy champion in 2002 and the artistry of the 44-year-old as a Singles exponent can be further measured by ten club championship wins, four at Tramways, two at Whitehouse & Grange and four at Tanfield.
“This will be my ninth visit to Ayr and my best progress was to reach the semi-final of the Triples in 1998, so my ambition this week is to improve on that,” said Sneddon.
Sneddon opens against Bob Morris of Girdle Toll at 5.30pm on Friday while Mitchell occupies the next rink against Ricky Taylor of Bellahouston.
Marshall has long been the dominant personality on the world stage, but has yet to make his mark on the national singles and the Gifford star knows he will have to be on his toes to survive a first-round challenge from 2007 Junior champion Iain McLean.
Other notable challengers include Jim Gilruth (Lochgelly) and Simon Thomson of Falkirk Adrian. Stuart Sneddon of Armadale and Graham Steele of Dalkeith are dark horses.
The Edinburgh challenge in the Gents Junior Singles is also promisingly strong in the shape of 2012 Fleming Trophy winner Kerr McKail of Summerside and Junior cap Stephen Pringle of Carrick Knowe.
Both open at 9.30am on Friday with McKail tackling Robbie Orr of Newburgh and Pringle facing fellow cap Grant Thomson of Gifford. The winners will meet.
It’s a hot field and includes 2011 Singles champion proper, Mark Kelsey of Rutherglen, while Greg Baldry of Newbridge and Jamie Aitken of Gilmerton are hopefuls.
District 14 look strong in the Pairs with Kevin Hunter and Andrew Caldwell of Craigentinny while the family rink of Grant, Ian, Craig and John Ramsay of Leith adds an extra dimension of interest in the Fours. The Ramsay brothers Andrew and Gordon of Slateford carry the District 15 banner in the Pairs while the District 13 triple of Calum Logan, Ray Logan and Neil Speirs (Kirkliston) is strongly formed.
David Peacock of Danderhall (skip) is high profile for District 16 in the Triples while much is expected from the District 17 partnership of Alister Kennedy and Billy Mellors in the Pairs.
Lorna Smith of Linlithgow goes for back-to-back wins in the ladies national singles and also competes in the Seniors Singles, while holders Leanne and Lauren Baillie of Port Seton go for a fourth title triumph in the Pairs.
The finals stage of the Bowls Scotland National Championships take place at Ayr Northfield all this week.