Scottish Hydro Challenge

Jamie Mcleary ready to win the Hydro trophy once again

Jamie Mcleary – 1.5 points each-way @ 50-1

Tom Murray – 0.5 points each-way @ 175-1

A disappointing Sunday last week, with Chris Blomstrand going into Payday in the top-5, just four off the pace. It never happened though and he drifted down the board to a more modest placing, between two of our other wagers. Ok, its an improvement getting three from four through to the weekend but this is a prolonged period of drought and the pressure is on.

The Scottish Challenge make it nine-in-a-row at Spey Valley, Aviemore this year with a few local players saying the course will play all of it’s 7100+ yards with wind and rain forecast for the majority of the four days.

Although the course hosts a 635-yard par-5 and several ‘proper’ par-4s, scoring has been good with results recorded at between 12 and 21-under the card and two rounds of 62 within the last few years. One of those courses where play is rewarded if keeping out of the maturing heather, there seems to be a definite trend towards home victors and repeat form.

Only two foreign players have won in the last eight runnings here, and with one of those being the extraordinary Brooks Koepka, there has to be a bias when looking for a bet or two.

Both Koepka and his successor, Andrew Johnston, have obviously gone on to greater things and I am not sure there will be the type of shock result that we are now used to on the main European Tour.

I had a short ‘shortlist’ for this event and when prices came out today, had no hesitation in backing Jamie Mcleary.

Leading at halfway on his debut at Murcar Links in 2006, the Scot eventually finished 14th before running-up to Robert Dinwiddie at Cardrona in 2007. It took a couple of years but eventually went one better, winning here in sometimes brutal conditions, and by two shots from top-class Edoardo Molinari. The Scot hasn’t made much progress on the main Tour but on each occasion he has played a full Challenge Tour season he has finished in the top echelons, most notably when 15th in 2013 with five top-10s and a runner-up at the lucrative finale. The following season saw McLeary make 13 cuts without pulling up any trees and after an attempt at the second stage of Q-school started to make progress back at this level, with a 20th in Madrid, top-10 at the D&D and a closing 24th in Switzerland before a late birdie saw off the challenge of Taco Remkes (winner of the Scottish in 2008) for the KPMG Trophy.

Forget 2016 as a waste of time at the highest level and encouragement must be taken from progressive form this season. A poor final day cost a top-20 in Turkey whilst a second-round 63 cancelled out a bad opener at the Czech, a country in which he seems to like judged on past outings. Similar comments apply to Belgium when much more consistent, before playing very well in similar conditions in Denmark last week closing with a best-of-day 65.

Mcleary looks like a player about to strike top form, comes here on top of his game, round a course he likes and at a very fair price.

A similar progressive seasonal profile can be awarded to Chase Keopka who is beginning to find that high-class college form with two top-5s in three recent outings, and who may get advice from his big bro’ if he is in contention again. He has plenty of improvement left but unlike the US Open winner, he isn’t a big hitter and may lose out when it counts.

Of the other favourites, I am happy to wait and see if Aaron Rai can close the gap on Road To Oman leader Julien Suri but won’t be paying at the odds to find out, whilst Max Orrin and Oliver Farr made some appeal on their love of tough conditions and on course form but are too short at the moment if this doesn’t end up as a low scoring event.

Recent form isn’t always vital and if a firm was to go 80-1+ about James Heath he would have to be of interest given course form of 1/6/8 – keep your eyes on the twitter feed for any further bets. For now though just one more wager.

It is hard to be enamoured with Tom Murray‘s recent form but there is some validity in the pick on his course form of 5/mc/10 and whilst he missed the cut in the 2015 Scottish Open, rounds of 71/69 are perfectly acceptable. One of only two players to get through every round of the 2015 Q-school, he again showed plenty of grit when winning that season’s Irish Challenge in a play-off and backing up excellent top-10s at Madeira and the higher class Nordea, both venues that have swirling wind.

2016 wasn’t memorable for much other than the highlight being T5 round here, and suggests that he raises his game at home. Having preceded that effort with a top-20 in Switzerland it is encouraging that one of his best this season has been 22nd around that very same venue. The silly prices have gone but there is plenty of 175-1 about and it’s worth the risk.