Golf: Stephen Neilson and Craig Lee eye double

Stephen Neilson, left, advises Craig Lee during a successful round in Abu Dhabi. Pic: Getty
Stephen Neilson, left, advises Craig Lee during a successful round in Abu Dhabi. Pic: Getty
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Stephen Neilson is hoping he can become a winner for the second time in a week with Craig Lee – but this time on a bigger stage.

The pair joined forces last week down at Dunbar, Neilson’s home club, to come out on top in a bounce match.

It was part of Lee’s preparation for the £1.6 million HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi, where Neilson is back in his regular role as caddie rather than playing partner.

After rounds of 68 and 67, Lee was sharing the lead at the halfway stage with Spanish star Rafa Cabrera-Bello. They had two-times major winner Rory McIlroy breathing down their necks as well as Thomas Bjorn.

But, after seeing him come close last season, Neilson reckons his man is ready to make the breakthrough on the European Tour.

“He should do,” said Neilson in reply to being told that Lee had said earlier in the week that he now believed he was good enough to contend at this level.

“Craig’s golf is improving, he’s beginning to play in bigger tournaments so for me it’s also getting more exciting as a caddie,” he added.

“His game has come on a lot since we were here 12 months ago, while he’s also more experienced on these type of courses.

“He’s played courses at home for a long time, so when you come out here and play ones that are 7500 yards long, it takes a bit of time to get used to them.”

The highlight for Lee last season came in the European Masters in Switzerland, where he flirted with a magical 59 before finishing runner-up to Bjorn.

“When he was on for a 59, that was an incredible experience,” recalled Neilson. “When we were going down nine or nine, it dawned on him that he was on for a 59 and we had a wee laugh about it.

“It was good for Craig being in the play-off there and he just got unlucky on the last green.

“I definitely think he can be in with another chance here as he’s rolling the ball nice on the greens.”

It’s a life Neilson is enjoying, the only downside being the time he spends away from home due to the circuit being a worldwide operation these days.

“That tough but when you get into the business end of tournaments it’s worthwhile,” he said.

A decent player himself, Neilson reached the semi-finals in the 2010 Scottish Amateur at Gullane, won by Michael Stewart.

“I had a game last week at Dunbar – my first one in three months,” he revealed.

“It was with Craig and two other caddies from the Lothians - Scott Walker and Craig Galloway. We threw the balls up in the air and, as luck would have it, Craig Lee and I were partnered together.

“I carried him around and we took the money off them.”

Another Lothians caddie eyeing a win bonus heading into the weekend in the UAE was Dave Renwick.

His man, Argentine Ricardo Gonzalez, was lying joint-fourth alongside McIlroy and Bjorn on seven-under – two behind the leaders.

Stephen Gallacher, with close friend Aidan O’Reilly on his bag, safely made the cut on one-under following rounds of 70 and 73.

But Jamie McLeary, with the aforementioned Walker working for him, missed out following scores of 78 and 75.

Paul Lawrie and Chris Doak also made early exits, leaving Lee and Gallacher to fly the Saltire in the final two rounds along with Marc Warren (-3), Colin Montgomerie (-3) and Peter Whiteford (level).