Poor putting leaves Jamie McLeary in last spot

Jamie McLeary 'is still on course to get 'his European Tour card. Pic: John Devlin
Jamie McLeary 'is still on course to get 'his European Tour card. Pic: John Devlin
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Bonnyrigg-based Jamie McLeary blamed “poor putting” for leaving him in last spot after the opening round of the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Oman.

The 34-year-old found himself propping up the 45-man field at Almouj Golf in Muscat following a first-round 78 that was book-ended by costly scoring.

After starting bogey, double-bogey, McLeary fought back well to stand level-par with four holes to play in searing heat beside the Oman Sea.

But, after dropping a shot at the 15th, he then lost a ball at the 17th to take 7 there before finishing with a 6 after missing the green on the left.

“I didn’t play as bad as 78,” declared the Marriott Dalmahoy man afterwards. “In fact, I felt I played about level-par. I only hit four bad shots, but they all ended up in bad places. It’s a cruel game at times.”

Eleventh on the money-list coming into the event, the effort dropped McLeary a spot in the projected rankings as the Challenge Tour’s elite this season chase 15 cards for the main circuit.

“I’m not putting well and that’s putting me under undue pressure,” he added. “Even after bad start, I got back to level-par and could have been three or four-under.

“If there was a cut, I’d be packing my bags but fortunately there’s not and I’ve still got three rounds to come. I’ve just got to work my way through this putting dip.”

Scott Henry was the best among the five Scots after the first circuit, sitting joint-sixth following a three-under 69.

He came into the season-ending event lying 20th on the money-list but had jumped to 14th on the projected list.

“I hit some really nice shots and that was definitely a lot better than I have been playing,” said the 28-year-old Clydebank man. “I don’t see point aiming to finish fifth or sixth, which would probably be good enough to get the job done this week. I’ve got to play as well as I can to get into contention and chase down a win.”

Henry, who is bidding to get back on the main Tour after a two-year absence, started with a bogey before bouncing back straight away with three successive birdies.

He also made back-to-back gains at the 12th and 13th, where he was unlucky not to get a hole-in-one after his ball bounced into the cup then out again.

“It was so hot out there,” added the former amateur ace after getting up and down from a greenside bunker to save his par at the last.

“The grip almost slipped out of my hands at the 18th. I chunked it and the second shot wasn’t good either, but the bunker shot was high quality and it was a nice way to finish.”

Both needing to win to catapult themselves into card-winning positions, Fifers George Murray and Peter Whiteford signed for 70 and 73 respectively.

“I didn’t play that well, to be honest,” admitted Murray, who won the 2004 Scottish Amateur at Gullane. “The difference today was that I putted well, which has been my Achilles’ heel all year.”

The last man into the field, Whiteford was looking for a significantly better start when he headed out in perfect conditions in the first group.

“It’s a pathetic score as it was easy out there,” said the 35-year-old, who lost his European Tour card 12 months ago. “I didn’t hit the ball very well, but it’s a work in progress at the moment as I’m trying to make some changes to my swing.

“With no cut, I can try things out without worrying but I flew one straight into the ocean at the 12th, which isn’t good.

“That showed there are still some bad ones, but I’m just going to have to put in the graft ahead of the Tour School.”

Playing in the same group as McLeary, Andrew McArthur also had a tough opening day, a 75 dropping him one spot to 11th in the projected standings.

“It just wasn’t very good,” admitted the Glaswegian. “I hit one quality shot to four or five feet but missed that. I couldn’t get going at all out there, managing just one birdie at 16th following a decent 7-iron to 15 feet.

“I came here playing quite decent as well, but I’ve got three rounds to go and hopefully I can relax a bit more over the next three days.”

Dane JB Hansen set the pace with a 66 but has Race to Oman leader Ricardo Gouveia breathing down his neck after the Portuguese player opened with an impressive flawless effort.