Forsyth fuels hopes of rare home success

Countdown to The Open: Unheralded duo lead a cavalry charge of stars in curtain-raiser for this week's big event

No matter how strenuously the Scottish Open promoters exhort us to try, it is proving mighty tricky not to relate what is happening here to what will happen next week at St Andrews. Indeed, it was even possible for the obsessed golfing mind to see the similarities between this leaderboard and one we might see at the Old Course: wholly unimpressive on first viewing, it just gets better and better the more you familiarise yourself with it.

Look past Holland's Martin Lafeber and South Africa's Tim Clark, who both performed with admirable fortitude and flair in their 68 and 65 respectively to share a one-shot lead at 15 under, and there you will find a cast list fairly brimming with big names and worthy winners.

If the imposing figure of Angel Cabrera does not impress you at 14-under - after the PGA champion's 68 - and the resurgence of the local lad Alastair Forsyth, on the same mark after a 67, does not warm the cockles, then the trio of Luke Donald, Darren Clarke and Adam Scott must do. The latter pair are only three behind after Scott's round-of-the-day 64 and Clarke's far from disastrous 69, while Donald, the crown prince of British golf, is a further stroke back after his 67.

It all makes for a Sunday that is promising to be quite easily the best on the European Tour so far this year as not only is there the little matter of who walks away with the £400,000 first prize but there is also the delicious sub-plot of who gets the last Open berth.

With all that pressure, feel for Forsyth, the 29-year-old from Paisley, who is trying to put a horrific year behind him to become Scotland's first winner this century. "If I could pick any tournament on tour to win this would be it," he said. "Of course I'll be nervous. Sometimes nerves can be a good thing."

But boy how they'll twitch, as there are not just Donald, Clarke and Scott to worry about, but Nick Dougherty on 11 under, and one behind the dashing young Englishman lies a group that includes Ernie Els and Ian Poulter, who from their mood yesterday looked like they had just shot their cats, not 67s.

While Els lamented his continued torture on the greens, the putting bells were also ringing for Poulter, and not metaphorically, as he was distracted while standing over his ball on the par-three 8th, by a mobile phone going off which a spectator shamelessly answered.

Poulter was understandably incensed, flashing round to the hapless dolt who was by now saying something along the lines of "Hello, I'm on the golf course".

"Great timing," shouted Poulter. "You just finish your conversation and then I'll get on and finish my putt." The hole duly missed, Poulter slammed his club against his bag and said: "Prick." It was not self-admonishment.

Afterwards, the 29-year-old revealed this is proving to be something of an occupational hazard on Tour. "People should have the common courtesy to put their phones on silent," he said. "It's happening every week. Perhaps the mobiles are now so complicated that simple minds can't understand them."

Colin Montgomerie would sympathise as in the past the Scot has had a similar ring tone to Poulter's - i.e. extremely angry. He was happy enough yesterday, although he erroneously believed that his 66 and 10-under total would be eight or nine off the pace.

"I won't be able to make it interesting at all here," he said, referring to his extraordinary finish in last week's European Open at the K-Club where he came from 10 behind to finish in a tie for second. "I've just got to score as well as I can and try to get as many world ranking points as I can and get ready for next week."

Alas, there will be no Big Wiesy at St Andrews, which will have to look for its history elsewhere after the incredible 15-year-old Hawaiian missed the cut in the John Deere Classic in Illinois. The PGA Tour event also has one Open spot up for grabs for the leading player not already qualified and as Michelle Wie was in the field on a sponsor's invite she became the first female to have the chance to qualify for the oldest, most prestigious major. But the "firsts" ended there when Wie failed by two shots to make the weekend and become the "first" female to make a cut on the tour since Babe Zaharias in 1945. Not that this was any lame surrender on Wie's part as she went to the turn in 33 to move up from 70th overnight to 40th. But then that big bully called reality intervened.

A double-bogey at the 15th was compounded by a bogey on the next and the chance was gone. Wie still finished at one under, but joint 88th was not what this golfing suffragette had in mind. "Even though I finished under par it still feels like crap," she said, sweetly. Beyond her years in so many ways.

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