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Bradley Neil dares to dream of Major tournaments after reaching Amateur Championship final at Royal Portrush

The Open, the Masters, the US Open?

It's the stuff of golfing dreams and Bradley Neil is still chasing them here at Royal Portrush. At the tender age of 18, this impressive young man from Blairgowrie will become the third Scot in the last five years to contest the 36-hole final of the Amateur Championship today.

James Byrne lost in 2010, so did Michael Stewart the following year. Neil, the Scottish Boys' champion last season, will hope to end that losing run and gather up the Major bounty that comes with victory in the unpaid game's flagship event. A 2 and 1 win over his compatriot, Connor Syme, in the semi-finals set up a showdown with South African teenager Zander Lombard. If he wins that, Augusta may have to brace itself for a Perthshire invasion next April.

"This could be life changing," admitted Neil, as he allowed his mind to wander to the mind-boggling possibilities that loom seductively on the horizon. "The doors it can open are incredible. To play in the Masters, in particular, is every golfer's dream.

"You think about what's on offer to the winner coming into the week and you think about it each day. But today I was thinking about it more than once. When you're so close it's hard to put it to the back of your mind, but you need to use it as a motivation not a distraction."

Neil certainly had his eye on the ball at sun-soaked Portrush yesterday. He was in rampaging form during his morning quarter-finals joust with Iceland's Haraldur Magnus and birdied four of his first five holes to seize command. It was a devastating opening salvo that left Magnus reeling and Neil eventually swept to a rousing 7 and 6 win. Syme, meanwhile, was embroiled in a keenly-fought tussle with his fellow Scot Jamie Savage, and finally emerged triumphant at the first extra hole. That guaranteed a Scottish presence in the final for the eighth time in the last 20 years and it would be Neil who would go on to book that much sought-after place.

There was not a great deal between the two in the opening exchanges, but a succession of damaging bogeys from Syme at the eighth, ninth and 10th proved to be decisive as Neil forged a three-hole lead. Syme, the Dumfries teenager who has made such a big impression on his championship debut this week, had his opportunities.

He missed a tiddler on the short 11th after a fine tee shot and then on the 12th, with Neil bunkered with his drive, Syme dumped his approach from the middle of the fairway into the greenside trap. That costly error was compounded when his opponent trundled in a par putt of 13 feet to win the hole and extend his healthy advantage.

"I'm not going to shy away from the occasion now," said Neil, who has had seven top-10 finishes on the amateur circuit this season and was beaten in a play-off for the St Andrews Links Trophy a fortnight ago. "Zander will want to win as badly as me, but if he's going to beat me, I'll not make it easy for him."

Lombard will certainly provide the Scot with a meaty test. After much scientific guddling, it was discovered that chicken in his diet was hindering the 19-year-old's fitness, but he is now reaping the rewards of a new, healthy regime. "It's made a huge difference to my performance and my life," he said after beating Englishman Sean Towndrow by one hole.

There has not been a Scottish winner of the Amateur Championship since Stuart Wilson in 2004, but a South African golfer has not conquered since Bobby Cole in 1966. Trevor Immelman was the last player from the Rainbow Nation to reach the final in 1997 but he lost to Scotsman Craig Watson. A good omen for Neil, perhaps?

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