Golf: Neilson loses in semi but gets appetite back
The 22-year-old Dunbar man expected to wake up feeling disappointed today after falling at the penultimate hurdle in the SGU's flasgship event to Troon's Michael Stewart.
But he says picking up a bronze medal has given him the drive and determination to end the season with a flourish and perhaps even a win in one of three order of merit events in the coming weeks.
He said: "I've certainly gained a lot of confidence from this week – there have been a lot more positives than negatives.
"Before this event I had only played in two order order of merit tournaments this year – the Craimillar Park Open and the Sutherland Chalice in Dumfries.
"But this has given me an appetite to play in more and I'm now looking forward to the North of Scotland Open, the North East Open and the South East Open."
Neilson had secured his semi-final spot with a 3 and 1 win over teenager Liam Johnston – and he was also up early on against the seeded Stewart.
After losing the first to a birdie, the Lothians man won the second, fourth and fifth, the latter with an excellent birdie.
But, in doing so, he seemed to spark Stewart into life as the Ayrshireman produced a breathtaking burst to turn the tie around.
His second to the par-4 sixth almost went in and he also birdied the seventh, going to school on his opponent's missed putt there on an identical line.
Neilson then got unlucky when his approach to the realinged eighth hole bounced in the middle of the green but trickled off the back and down the bank.
Stewart rubbed salt in his opponent's wound by chipping dead from the right side for a hole-winning par before taking his fourth hole in a row thanks to a birdie putt from just under 20 feet for a 2 at the ninth.
Admitting afterwards it had been a key moment in the game, Stewart holed a good putt for a half at the tenth and went three up when Neilson couldn't make par at the next after pulling his tee shot into some thick stuff.
The deficit became four when Stewart won the long 12th with a birdie-4 but Neilson, to his credit, wasn't going to throw in the towel and won the 13th with a birdie.
The 14th was halved in pars before Stewart clinched victory in style, hitting a superb 3-wood to inside six feet for a conceded eagle at the 15th.
"Unfortunately I didn't putt very well," said Neilson. "I was inside him a couple of times just before the turn but couldn't hole the putts.
"I'm sure the disappointment of falling one round short of the final will kick in tomorrow but getting a bronze medal is still a good achievement.
"I was under par for most rounds and it has definitely been an encouraging week all round for me."
For brother Jamie, who caddied in the latter rounds, it's a week that looks to have cost him a putter. "It's mainly my putting that has stopped me getting past the third round in the past but I started using Jamie's one after the first round and it had worked well for me until the semi-final," added Stephen.
Jamie, who is over here for a fortnight's holiday from Jersey, where he stays along with older brother Craig, admitted: "I think I've lost that putter now!"
Stewart's opponent in today's 36-hole final was Fraserburgh's Jordan Findlay, who has surely secured his place in the Scotland team for next month's Home Internationals after beating title favourite James Byrne in the other last-four clash.
Byrne and Stewart will also be in the side for that Ashburnham and so, too, will the other four members of the European Team Championship side in Sweden a few weeks ago – Philip McLean, Ross Kellett, Kris Nicol and Greg Paterson.
Given they were seeded at Gullane, David Law and James White looked as though they were leading the race for the other spots and that could still be the case as some of the other contenders flopped in East Lothian. Peter Latimer, Scott Larkin, Matthew Clark and Scott Crichton all made early exits, as did Brian Soutar, though, in his defence, he couldn't have got a more difficult opening task in the shape of Stewart.
Findlay apart, the only other player to provide food for thought for the selectors this week was Allyn Dick, the Lothians champion.
He'd already put himself in the frame with a recent win in the Newlands Trophy at Lanark and, in reaching the last 16, where he made Byrne fight for a last-green success, the Kingsknowe man must be close to a first cap.
Scott Knowles and his fellow selectors, however, will have to pay some attention to the SGU's order of merit and, on that basis, a number of players are ahead of Dick.
It seems likely that White (second), Soutar (third) and Latimer (fourth) will join the six from Sweden plus Findlay, with Dick and Law leading the race for the 11th and final spot ahead of Clark, Crichton, Larkin and Glenbervie's Graeme Robertson.
"I've certainly gained a lot of confidence from this week. There have been a lot of positives"