Richie Ramsay puts himself in contention at Castle Stuart

Richie Ramsay carded five birdies

Richie Ramsay carded five birdies

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CAPITAL-BASED Richie Ramsay has Scottish Open glory in his sights – and also an 11th-hour entry into next week’s Open.

The three-time European Tour winner carded a second-round 68 at Castle Stuart to move into the top ten at halfway in the £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management-backed event outside Inverness.

On four-under – four behind the leader, Swede Alex Noren – Ramsay leads the home challenge into the weekend in an event that was last won by a Scot in 1999, when Colin Montgomerie was victorious at its forerunner at Loch Lomond.

“You are at the Scottish Open and it doesn’t get any better than this,” he admitted after signing for five birdies – three in the first five holes then two more at the 16th and 18th in a late thrust. “If you said to me I would be in this when I was 14 or 15, I would have bitten your hand off,” he said.

Ramsay had talked before the event about how he planned to go back to basics by playing “caveman golf” and he aims to adopt that same mindset over the weekend in the battle for a top prize of £541,660.

“I have got to take that simple approach to it and just enjoy it,” he added.

“Being in the mix is what we play for. We have a great field this week so hopefully the weather holds and it is a bit of a shoot-out over the weekend.

“I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m trying to get to Sunday and being in a position to compete.

“That is where the fireworks happen and I tend to be really good under pressure. Hopefully the pressure is there and I get the chance to perform.”

The top four players in the top 12 not already exempt will secure spots in next week’s Claret Jug joust. English duo Eddie Pepperel and Richard Bland, Italian Matteo Manassero and Spaniard Jorge Campo were the players occupying those 
spots after 36 holes but Ramsay was breathing down their necks.

“Finishing high here is the big thing for me and the Scottish Open is a huge event for us,” insisted the 33-year-old.

“I don’t feel I have done myself justice over the last three or four weeks. I think a high finish is there but I just need to stay patient. If a place in The Open comes with it then it is a fantastic bonus. The Scottish Open is a major for me and is just as important or if not more important than The Open.”

Ramsay was joined in the final two rounds by West Linton pro Gareth Wright, one of the five qualifiers from last weekend’s 36-hole shoot-out at Lossiemouth, after rounds of 74 and 71.

It is the second time in three years that the Edinburgh-based Welshman has been up to the task on a big stage, having also made the cut in The Open at Muirfield in 2013. Noren, a four-time winner, moved to the head of affairs after a 66 that included a burst of five birdies in the space of seven holes.

He leads by a shot from Pepperell (67) and Kiwi Danny Lee, who boosted the West Virginia flood relief fund after signing for six birdies in his 67.

Lee was due to be defending his Greenbrier Classic title in the US state this week only for the event to be cancelled due to recent bad weather leaving it in turmoil.

Having accepted a late invitation to travel to Inverness, he is donating $500 for every birdie and $1000 for every eagle he makes here.

“It is really unfortunate what happened in West Virginia so I was happy to make a lot of birdies today and hopefully I can make some more over the next couple of days and put some eagles in there, too,” he said.

Among four players just two shots off the lead are South African Branden Grace, the world No 10, and Italian Matteo Manassero, who is starting to come out of his wretched run of form over the last two years.

“I’m more confident about my game again and also feel better with myself on the golf course,” said the player who’d won four European Tour titles by the age of 20 but has slipped to 596th in the world rankings. “I am on the right track.”