Stirling-based player sees his lead cut in final round but manages to hold on for third victory
By Chris Johnston
Chris Kelly survived a last-round wobble before claiming his third M&H Logistics PGA Scottish Championship with an impressive wire-to-wire win at Gleneagles.
The 40-year-old had increased a five-shot overnight lead to seven after seven holes before seeing his playing partner, Paul O’Hara, close the gap to just two with four holes to play.
Doubts Kelly had expressed despite opening with a stunning 63 on the King’s Course then backing that up with a 67 suddenly became real, but he kicked away again over the closing stretch.
The Stirling-based player finished birdie-birdie-par-birdie for a closing 67 and a 13-under-par total, winning an event shortened to 54 holes due to bad weather by six shots.
It was the biggest winning margin in the Tartan Tour’s flagship event since Kelly claimed his first title triumph by seven shots on the PGA Centenary Course in 2003. His second success, in 2015, was secured on the King’s Course in a play-off against Paul McKechnie.
“I can’t quite believe it,” admitted Kelly, who hadn’t played nearly much as normal this season after taking up a post under the long-serving Ian Collins at Stirling.
“I played lovely on the front nine today and felt happy and in control, but felt I was tying up a little on the back nine.
“All of a sudden, Paul cut my lead to just two shots and I thought, ‘oh no, here were go’.
“But, thanks to hitting a 6-iron to about two feet, I managed to make a crucial birdie at the 15th before then knocking an 8-iron to three feet under the hole for a 2 at the next.”
With O’Hara dropping a shot there, Kelly was virtually home and dry, rounding off a brilliant performance by two-putting the last for a closing birdie.
O’Hara, who also signed off with a 4, ended with a 68 to share second spot with the fast-finishing Robert Arnott - the Bishopbriggs Golf Range man closed with a 64 - and Newmachar’s Greg McBain (66).
“After getting off to a flyer with my 63, it was just a case of not trying to make a mess of things,” added Kelly, who picked up a cheque for £9,500.
O’Hara’s performance saw him clinch the Scottish Region Order of Merit title for the first time, but the 30-year-old was disappointed with his final round of the season on the circuit.
“I was rubbish today, really,” said the North Lanarkshire Leisure-attached player. “I thought I had a chance when I got within two shots, but Chris played some terrific golf in the last four holes.”
In benign conditions at the Perthshire resort, Grantown-on-Spey’s Gavin Hay and Chris Doak (The Renaissance Club) both closed with superb eight-under-par 62s.
Just two shots outside the course record held by Englishman Paul Curry, the efforts lifted the duo into a share of eighth on eight-under.
Graham Fox (Clydeway Golf) joined in the low scoring with a 63, while Arnott’s 64 was matched by McKechnie (Braid Hills Golf Centre).
Kris Nicol (Dunes Golf Centre) finished as the leading young professional on five-under, having already been crowned as the Scottish Young Pros’ champion earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, Hay, Greig Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre Inchmarlo) and Gareth Wright (West Linton) secured the three spots up for grabs in the PGA Play-Offs at Walton Heath off the Order of Merit.
O’Hara and Caldwell’s Chris Currie had already secured exemptions for the end-of-season event involving players from all seven of the PGA Regions through their performances in the Titleist & FootJoy PGA Professional Championship earlier in the year.
Photo© Kenny Smith