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Young guns in Old Course shoot-out

AT THE home of golf, Grant Forrest finally brought home the St Andrews Links Trophy with a play-off victory over his compatriot Bradley Neil.

Grant Forrest from Craigielaw shows off the St Andrews Links Trophy after his sudden-death play-off victory. Picture: Kenny Smith
Grant Forrest from Craigielaw shows off the St Andrews Links Trophy after his sudden-death play-off victory. Picture: Kenny Smith

In the six years since a Scot last got his hands on the shimmering piece of silverware, it has been across to Ireland, down south to England and over in the Netherlands. Last night, it was back in Scottish clutches. It could not have gone anywhere else, of course.

The sudden-death shoot-out between two of the country's brightest prospects concluded with Forrest trundling in a birdie putt of 25 feet on the first play-off hole to deny Neil after both players had finished locked on nine-under aggregates of 278. It was Forrest who was the talk of the Auld Grey Toon. "I won the Scottish Amateur Championship two years ago but to win this, against such a strong international field, is huge for me," said the 20-year-old from Craigielaw, as he savoured the biggest strokeplay success of his career.

Forrest, the national boys' champion in 2010, had led by two shots heading into the closing 36 holes over the Old Course and he maintained that advantage in a fairly unconventional fashion after an eventful end to his third round. He had been four under through 10 holes and motoring along nicely but the wheels began to shoogle and he spilled seven shots over the next seven holes, including a triple-bogey seven on the 12th. "I was falling apart at that point," he admitted.

Forrest salvaged the situ­ation in spectacular style though, and pitched his approach from 30 yards up and over the Valley of Sin and into the hole for an eagle 2 in a one-over 73 which kept him two clear. It was still all up for grabs, however.

Having snuck in the back door by making the halfway cut on the limit, the Englishman Thomas Rowland set about barging into centre stage on the final afternoon and came roaring up to the head of the field with a superb closing 65 to set the clubhouse target of eight under.

Rowland, who won the St Andrews Boys' Open back in 2010, held that position for more than three hours as the devilishly difficult back nine kept those at the sharp end all tightly bunched. It would be Neil, the former Scottish Boys' champion from Blairgowrie, who broke clear.

A birdie putt of 20 feet on the 16th got him to 10 under but he leaked a shot on the Road Hole 17th and then had to settle for par on the last in a 68. His nine-under tally gave him a chance at glory, however. While Neil was making telling inroads, Forrest, after a bogey on the fourth, was struggling to keep the chasing pack at bay as he slithered off the top.

His first birdie of the afternoon at the 12th, and another at 15, bolstered his assault but a dropped shot at 16 kept him one behind Neil and he holed a vital six footer for par on 17 to keep alive his title bid.

Forrest needed a birdie on the last to force the play-off and he duly obliged, smacking a drive "as hard as I could" into the Valley of Sin and two putting for a birdie in a 71. Another decisive birdie in the play-off completed his conquest.

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