The hopes of another shone brightly here yesterday, like the brief burst of afternoon sunshine that illuminated the Ayrshire coast, but, in the end, it all dulled over. Instead of a duel of the home hopefuls, Jack McDonald and Paul Ferrier, today's 36-hole final will be between an Austrian and a Northern Irishman, in Matthias Schwab and Alan Dunbar.
Ferrier had already succumbed to Dunbar 3 and 2 in the last four by the time Schwab eventually thwarted the ambitions of the spirited Barassie teenager McDonald on the final green of the other semi-final. Given that Schwab was a keen skier before he turned his attentions to golf and lives next to the slopes near Salzburg, you could say that he left the galleries somewhat piste off with his defeat of the local favourite. The 17-year-old's dad, Andreas, missed out on a medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck when he finished fourth in the two-man bob. Today his son will be going for gold in a shoot-out that will provide the winner with invitations to July's Open and next year's Masters and US Open.
"I am more nervous when I watch him than I was myself in the Olympics," said Andreas. It was a tense affair with McDonald, who had once again demonstrated his battling qualities when he beat Englishman Toby Tree at the 19th hole of the morning's quarter-finals.
All-square through 15, Schwab made a fine up-and-down on the 16th, which was concluded with a 25-foot putt for a birdie, and watched as McDonald's 20-footer to halve the hole burned the cup. The former Austrian champion, who is coached by Bernhard Langer's former swing coach Willie Hoffman, was still one-up playing the 18th, but was handed a decisive advantage when the young Scot found the fairway bunker from the tee. He eventually conceded the hole after missing his par putt.
"I just pulled my drive a wee bit," said McDonald at the end of an exhausting matchplay campaign that had been played out over 97 holes. "I'd been working on adrenalin but I'm shattered now."
Schwab scraped through to the matchplay stages by a single shot in qualifying, but he has made the most of his opportunity. In Dunbar, he will face a stiff test. The 23-year-old was a Walker Cup winner with GB&I at Royal Aberdeen last year, while he has some encouraging history to lean on, too. The last two Northern Irish champions, Michael Hoey and Garth McGimpsey, both triumphed on Scottish soil, at Prestwick and Dornoch in 2001 and 1985.
Dunbar's two-hole lead against Ferrier at the turn was squandered with a brace of double-bogey sixes at 10 and 11, but he steadied the ship and regained that cushion when the Scot made a hash of the 15th after pitching over the green. "That's where I let it slip," lamented Ferrier, who will now try to gain entry to the Open the hard way, in regional qualifying at Goswick on Monday.