Musselburgh weather the storm to lift first title
Musselburgh defeated North Berwick on Sunday to win the East Lothian Winter Cup and complete a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes this season.
Exactly one month earlier the Monktonhall outfit suffered a disappointing defeat to the same opponents, leaving them rooted to the foot of the Division 1 table and staring relegation in the face, whilst North Berwick claimed the league title.
But after that reverse, Musselburgh completed their league commitments with two emphatic wins ensuring their survival in the top flight, then turned their attentions to the Cup last weekend.
On Saturday they took on Kilspindie in the semi final, and became the first team this season to defeat the second division champions on their home patch. On Sunday they ended North Berwick’s unbeaten run.
And in a competition disrupted by freezing weather from the start it was no surprise to see more snow on the morning of the final. Indeed the Gullane No 1 course was opened for play less than an hour before the 10am scheduled tee off, and when more snow came down as play commenced it became obvious the elements would be a significant factor in the day’s proceedings.
The match was in the balance at the half way stage with Musselburgh a hole up in each of the first two ties and North Berwick one to the good in the third. But it was Musselburgh that made the next move. In the top tie Calum Burgess struck a classy 7 iron approach to the par 5 twelfth, setting up a tap in eagle for partner Ken Davidson. Another 3 on the thirteenth saw the Musselburgh pair go three up on Kevin Messer and Ally Simpson.
North Berwick’s Euan Donaldson and Craig Wright struggled over the same stretch, falling three behind through thirteen to some excellent golf from Benn McLeod and Lewis Bain. The young Musselburgh duo held their lead over the next three holes and duly delivered the first point for their team on the sixteenth green.
But Messer and Simpson fought back for the league champions, and had won 14, 15 and 16 to square their match by the time Musselburgh’s point was chalked up.
And there was more good news for North Berwick at the bottom of the order. Tail gunners Chris Brown and Mike Gray established an early three hole lead which they never relinquished, eventually running out 4&3 winners. But perhaps more significantly Chris Wood and Weston Main, three down to Myles Clapperton and Scott Greig after just five holes, had turned their tie around winning the 7th, 11th and 12th. When the North Berwick pair made a great par five on the long and difficult fifteenth they hit the front for the first time.
But while all that was going on, some unpredictable golf in match 3 made that one the most difficult to call. Musselburgh’s Brian Henderson and Tom Cordery trailed early on, but took advantage of some uncharacteristically sloppy work around the greens from George Cochrane and Paul McTernan to edge ahead for the first time on the14th. Then both sides must have felt they were handed a lifeline when the long fifteenth was halved in 8, albeit with more snow falling and into a viscious easterly wind. The North Berwick duo made a fine 3 to level the match on the short sixteenth, but Musselburgh’s response was immediate and they restored their advantage on the next hole.
By that time Burgess and Davidson had arrived greenside with the news that they had won the crucial final hole of their tussle, making the score 2-1 to Musselburgh. Henderson knew a half on the eighteenth would be good enough to lift the cup, but hope turned to dismay as his well struck tee shot plummeted into the right fairway bunker, whilst McTernan’s found short grass.
So all eyes were on the final green and thoughts turning to extra holes. But when Cochrane’s approach missed the target left there was renewed hope for the Musselburgh pair, who duly escaped from their trap and found the front apron in three. Cordery ran his approach putt some four or five feet past the hole, but the North Berwick pair failed to get up and down for par leaving Henderson a putt for the Cup. He made no mistake and Musselburgh lifted their first winter title in just their third year of competing.