Golf: Cool Mason shows his might

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CARL MASON, a 41-year-old revelling in a year of unaccustomed success, snatched his second title in six months as the King's course here gave a wet and wild farewell to the Bell's Scottish Open yesterday. He was chased and chivvied all the way home by his playing partner, Peter Mitchell, another golfer of long and largely

under-trophied service, who fell one shot short of Mason's total of 15 under.

Thanks to these two unlikely heroes it turned out to be an exciting finale for an event that now seeks a new home and a new benefactor. And even before they began to count the prize-money both golfers were able to celebrate what had been the limit of their hopes at the beginning of the tournament - by finishing in the top five they now qualify to play in The Open Championship at Turnberry this week.

Jesper Parnevik and Colin Montgomerie created a powerful challenge but in a finish that even a nasty bout of Perthshire weather could not spoil they were kept on the periphery of the battle by the doggedness and occasional brilliance of Mason and Mitchell. Mason who had entered the year with the reputation of lacking the winning instinct when in sight of victory proved once more how misguided was this image.

Mitchell, who had surrendered his overnight lead to him at the third hole, hit back with an eagle on the 14th and when Mason bogeyed the 16th and 17th he appeared to be tottering. But he flew a six-iron 197 yards to six feet on the last to win with a flourish.

Parnevik, who insists on wearing his hat in a style more suitable for the Tour de France, looked capable of retaining the title he took so convincingly last year until he suffered a double-bogey on the ninth. His challenge spluttered back to life with birdies on the 13th and 14th but he slid the ball past the birdie he needed on the 17th. Nevertheless, his finishing birdie left a respectable 13-under total to chase.

Colin Montgomerie, who has frequently threatened to annex this tournament for his countrymen, suffered three putts on three greens which made his 66 all the more respectable and he ensconced himself happily as leader in the club house. But even as he was regaling us with the number of difficult holes his rivals had yet to face, Mason and Mitchell were ploughing ahead. Mason cemened his lead with long-distance holes on the 10th and 11th.

If the battle for the top places had the frantic appearance of a scramble to get a drink before the bar closes it was not a wild departure from reality because the contenders were fighting over the last drops of Bell's sponsorship of this event.

The whisky firm are pulling out after eight years and will be replaced by a consortium of sponsors expected to be attracted by Sky's television coverage. Not only that, the event is moving from Gleneagles to a new venue yet to be announced but which is likely to provide a much harder and more appropriate test in the week before The Open.

So this was the Last Chance Saloon for many of the golfers bidding for glory yesterday. It is no offence to the beautiful King's course to suggest that a links event would give the top golfers the conditioning they need before tackling the major British championship. Neither is it insulting to say that more inspiring leaderboards than we saw yesterday would also be forthcoming.

Even Ian Woosnam, who won the Scottish Open here in 1987 and 1990, agrees that the move is a good thing. Woosnam, whose 68 yesterday encouraged him without allowing him to challenge for a hat-trick, said: 'I'd back the idea of going to a links course to help players get their game ready for the Open.'

Carnoustie is thought to be one of the front-runners to take over the Scottish event. The Tayside course last staged The Open in 1975, when Tom Watson beat Jack Newton in a play-off, and it was thereafter dropped by the R & A. It still has the reputation of being one of our best links courses, but a lack a good class hotel accommodation nearby no longer endears it to the organisers.

Sam Torrance is just one golfer who would welcome its restoration to the Tour - in years to come it could even turn out to be a tougher proposition than The Open which follows it.

In the play-off for the three remaining qualification places for The Open Andy Oldcorn, of England, Jim McGovern, of the United States, and Miguel Martin, of Spain were successful, edging out Brett Ogle of Australia.

(Photograph omitted)