McKechnie and Saltman in contention for Open slots

Elliot Saltman won a four-man play-off for the final spot
Elliot Saltman won a four-man play-off for the final spot
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Braid hills pro Paul McKechnie made a mad dash from Belgium to Bruntsfield Links to take a step towards playing in this year’s Open Championship.

Archerfield ace Elliot Saltman has also given himself a chance of teeing up in golf’s oldest major for a third time in six years after claiming the last of just eight spots in the regional qualifier in the Capital.

It was another exciting day as the Davidson’s Mains course staged the 18-hole shoot-out for a fourth successive year – with one more to come before it moves elsewhere.

Pride of place undoubtedly went to Norwegian 19-year-old Kristian Johannessen as he shot a course-record 63 to finish four shots clear of the field.

Illuminated by a burst of five birdies in a row from the 13th, that eight-under-par score was some effort on a course playing far from easy due to the rough being on the thick side at the moment.

Glaswegian Conor O’Neil finished as Johannessen’s closest challenger, with McKechnie among five players to progress after posting 69s.

The 37-year-old lives in Milton-on-Campsie but is well kent in the Capital, having been attached to the Braid Hills Golf Centre for a number of years.

He’s playing on the Challenge Tour this season and smiled as he recounted the journey he made back from Belgium on Sunday night to give himself a chance of playing in next month’s Claret Jug joust at Hoylake.

“I managed to get away from the course quickly yesterday, drove – not at the speed limit – to Calais and made the ferry by about five minutes.

“So we hopped over the channel and I had about an hour and 20 minutes to get to Gatwick. I made check-in with about two minutes to spare.

“I got to bed about half 12, then my wee girl – Sophia, who’s three – decided that she wasn’t going to sleep in her own bed, so she got into mine.”

In the circumstances, it was a terrific effort from McKechnie, who is now relishing next week’s 36-hole final stage at Glasgow Gailes in Ayrshire.

“I used to have the course record at Gailes back when I was about 18, an eight-under round of 63,” he revealed. “I was seven under at the turn, too, out in 29 – you can stick that on my tombstone!

“It’s a big field there next week but, realistically, only 20 or 30 guys can qualify for the three spots in The Open.”

Saltman, who played at Turnberry in 2009 and Royal Lytham two years ago, bogeyed the last to find himself in a four-man play-off for the final spot.

But he won that, eventually getting the better of Jonathan Mullaney from Dundonald Links after former South East District Open champion Graeme Robertson (Glenbervie) and Swede Mathias Dahl had dropped out at the second shoot-out hole.

“It was great to play at Turnberry, especially as one of my brothers, Lloyd, also qualified there and the other one, Zack, caddied,” said Saltman.

“I also enjoyed every minute at Lytham in 2012. I came in here playing really well. I’ve been working with Johnny Porteous, the pro at Craigielaw, and we worked out that for my last four rounds on the PGA EuroPro Tour I’m 33-under-par.”

Birthday boy Neil Fenwick missed out on the play-off by a shot after he bogeyed the 17th, while Zack Saltman and Craigielaw amateur Ross Noon were among those who fell two short.

Ross Brydon and Keith MacKenzie shared the honours among the trio of host club hopefuls with matching 74s.