With only four weeks remaining of the CarHire Hebrides Winter League, this is the point when all those with a prospect of winning summon up the energy for one final push. This year it would appear that 100 points should be enough to take the title. Those in contention could conceivably reach that with one good weekend performance in the next month. The course changes this week and no one will secure points without meeting the challenge of probably the most testing course setup of the winter. Par for the twelve holes is 49 and the opening six includes three par 5 holes in addition to the first appearance of the Castle. That may make it possible to pick up scoring points with a nett return over par, something that has not happened yet in this campaign.
Last weekend, the top spots were taken by teams with only an outside chance of being amongst the winners next month. John R Gillies and John “Shillegan” Gillies, in their first season playing together, eventually completed a round playing as something resembling a team. Contrary to rumour, they are neither twins nor father and son, although there is every indication that they may be related. There are certainly family resemblances. Both generally step onto the tee with the intention of playing a controlled draw, but the outcome could be more accurately described as an uncontrolled fade or, on the holes where trees line the right side of the fairway, a vicious slice. There was a distinct lack of that family failing last Saturday and, as a result, their round comprised a solid ten pars and two bogeys. The one advantage for pairings that have struggled all winter is that they still boast eye-watering handicaps. John R and Shillegan had a useful nine shots to squander and that took them to nett 38, victory on the day by one stroke and a welcome fifteen scoring points. The highlight of their day, however, did not involve their own play but was instead provided by one of their opponents, Norman Morrison, who sank a twenty foot putt across the green on the Whins for his first ever birdie. Even Kevin Macleod, who often seems reluctant to acknowledge any of Norman’s contributions to their partnership, was moved to congratulate him. As the next hole was the Dardanelles, Kevin resumed normal service fairly quickly.
The team in second place also picked up a birdie on the Whins. Norrie Mackenzie and Roddy Martin make up another partnership that has struggled over recent months. Consequently, they too have a handicap of nine and made the most of that with a round of nett 39 for twelve scoring points. The value of a good round at this point in the league campaign was underlined by the fact that the top two pairings last weekend climbed a dozen places up the table courtesy of their scoring points.
Cal Roberston and Richard Galloway are the type of partnership that would be expected to be jostling for top spot in the league but, mainly because of absence and injury, they have been off the pace since the turn of the year. They still have an outside chance of challenging for the title and their accurate golf will be invaluable on the new course layout. Their round began with a birdie on the Miller and was immediately followed by two bogeys before further birdies on the Dardanelles and Cup took them to the turn in level par. Successive birdies on the Gunsite and Short helped towards a two under par total for nett 40 and a share of third place.
Ken MacDonald and Dave Rattray also posted nett 40 for nine scoring points, with the first solid round they played for months. Like Cal and Richard, absence and injury have proved to be major handicaps in their season.
Chris Kelso and Kenny Maclean returned nett 41 for seven scoring points and shared fifth place with Sandy Bruce and Eddie Mackenzie. Sandy and Eddie are the team with the momentum at this stage of the campaign, having amassed 42 points in the past month. That achievement has lifted them to joint fourth place in the overall table and the weekly handicap reductions have yet to prove to be any sort of effective handicap to Eddie and Sandy.
Another team back to full strength and picking up a head of steam is Ken Galloway and John A Macleod. They once again managed to match the lowest gross score of the day, at two under par, and collected three scoring points to take their total for the past three weeks to 27.
The leaderboard has seen a little change this week but the top two teams are still locked on 78 points. Sharath Shetty and Andrew Sim now have a zero handicap, while joint leaders David Black and Euan Morrison are in the even more difficult situation of having to cope with a handicap of plus one. Ken Galloway and John Macleod have consolidated their third position and are now only two points adrift of the leaders. Eight points behind, on 68, are Sandy Bruce and Eddie Mackenzie, sharing fourth place with another pairing who have scored well in recent weeks. Stephen Moar and David “Kiwi” Macleod have picked up 17 points in the past three weeks. Al and Allan Macleod are tied in sixth position with Murdo and Peter O’Brien on 67 points, three ahead of Alistair Maclennan and Neil Macleod.
Twenty points in three weeks have moved Murdie Macdonald and Iain Macritchie into ninth spot on 63 points, one point ahead of Huw Lloyd and Marten James, who share tenth place with Arthur and Dougie Macintosh.