Bob MacIntyre and Calum Hill share British Masters lead at The Belfry
Twenty-one years after Gary Orr was the last Scot to land the title, Bob MacIntyre and Calum Hill are sharing the lead at the halfway stage in the Betfred British Masters.
MacIntyre, the highest-ranked player in the field at The Belfry, started with five straight birdies and carded eight in total as he signed for a splendid six-under-par 66 to move to seven-under.
Battling an upset stomach, Hill matched that total in the game behind with four birdies in a second-round 70, with Englishman Richard Bland also tying for top spot following a bogey-free 69 earlier in the day.
In squally afternoon showers, MacIntyre sparked a ‘59 watch’ following his blistering start before having the wind taken out of sails after finding water off the tee at the sixth to drop a shot.
As was the case in the US Masters last month, though, the 24-year-old left-hander from Oban showed he doesn’t dwell on disappointments or setbacks during rounds.
He almost holed a 6-iron - the same club Nick Faldo used when making an ace at the same hole in the 1993 Ryder Cup - at the 14th before following a two-putt birdie at the 17th by hitting a majestic approach to around 10 feet at the last and judging a left-to-right break to perfection.
“After yesterday, I was thinking we were a wee bit too far behind, “ he said of having opened with a 71 in his first outing in three weeks to sit five shots behind the overnight leader, Austrian Matthias Schwab.
“But I know my strengths tee to green and this is a course where you really have to strike it. I'm probably not striking it as good as I can, but I'm making up for that with the putter.”
He couldn’t miss with tyhe flatstick in his hands over the opening few holes. “I was in free flow,” added MacIntyre, the 2019 European Tour Rookie of the Year, of his fast start. “I hit a couple close but the putter was working. That's how you get a score – the putter has to be rolling. For me it felt beautiful.
“That could have been a crazy score today. I still missed quite a few chances, but that's golf. If I can shoot 66-66 at the weekend playing like that, you would take that.
“It's in the lap of the gods what score you make, you just commit to every shot and pray it's the right one. It's the way I play golf.”
This is the first time MacIntyre has teed up in an event as the highest-ranked player. He’s pleased about how he’s lived up to that billing so far, but is not the type to get carried away by the expectations of other people.
“After this, I will hit a few balls, might grab room service and then I will be on the Playstation for a couple of hours with my pals and see what is what,” said last season’s Cyprus Showdown winner. “I just try and enjoy myself as much as I can. Taking that with me is a huge stress reliever.”
Revealing that Game of Duty is his way of doing that, he added with a smile: “I feel sorry for the people that are next to me because it's half eleven at night, no matter the tee time and I'm roaring with my pals on the headset.
“That just keeps me away from golf as much as I can so that when I come on here and competing it's 100 per cent focus and I feel I've really upped the focus in the last eight months, just focusing on golf when I'm on the golf course, don't worry about outside things.”
Hill, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour and now starting to get himself in contention on the European Tour on a regular basis, finished 5-5 to relinquish the outright lead, but he was also still pleased with his day’s work.
“I didn’t quite have the long game dialled in today, so I had a few lags putts because I wasn’t getting it really close. But it wasn’t too bad,” said the 26-year-old, who was born in Kirkcaldy but now lives in Crook of Devon.
“I just felt a little off today, had a bit of an upset stomach, so felt a bit grim,” he added. “Didn’t eat much on the course and it was a get through the day thing rather than shoot 65. So I’m pretty pleased how it went.”
Taking up where he left off on the opening day, when his short game was mercurial, Hill had already birdied the third when he then chipped in at the next. He then dropped a shot at the eighth before holing a 15-footer at the next to avoid further spillage.
That was followed by a birdie-birdie start and, though unable to take advantage of the two par-5s coming in, the 15th and the 17th, before three-putting the last, the Gleneagles Hotel-attached player took his finish on the chin.
“It is what it is,” he said. “The 17th doesn’t suit my shape very well, while the last is a brute and hard to get it back there because, if you go long, you’re gubbed.”
All eyes may be on MacIntyre heading into the final two rounds and rightly so because he’s taking the game by storm at the moment, having tied for 12th in that debut Masters appearance a few weeks back.
But, having been every bit as impressive over the opening two days, Hill is understandably feeling quietly confident that he can be in with a strong chance of joining not only Orr but also Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance, Sandy Lyle and Bernard Gallacher on the list of Scottish successes in this event.
“Strive for a good two days and finish on top. We’ll see what we can do,” said Hill of his target from here.
Bland, a 48-year-old from Hampshire, is bidding to break his European Tour duck at the 478th attempt. It’s so good, so far on the back of two bogey-free efforts on a demanding test.
“We’re all here to win and, if I could do that at such an iconic event as the British Masters, that would be all your Christmases coming at once,” he said. “If I can just keep playing the way I have been playing, hopefully come Sunday afternoon I should be there or thereabouts.”
Richie Ramsay, who sits joint-16th on three-under, was the only other Scot from a 10-strong contingent to make the cut.