Sunday 4 December 2016

Irish look for positives as Fowler seals Scottish title in late drama

Published 13/07/2015 | 02:30

Rickie Fowler lines up a putt on his way to victory at the Scottish Open at Gullane yesterday
Rickie Fowler lines up a putt on his way to victory at the Scottish Open at Gullane yesterday

Padraig Harrington was spotted outside the Media Centre at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane yesterday walking backwards, with his hands in the air.

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The European Tour blog reported: "Just witnessed a remarkable bit of warming up from three-time Major Champ Padraig Harrington en route to the range a few minutes ago.

"The Irishman was walking backwards for around 300 metres with both hands raised up as if in surrender. He only paused to wave to Mikko Ilonen. Lovely stuff."

Was it a hold-up? A surrender to the golfing gods?

Nope. Nothing so dramatic. It was just an exercise to warm up his glutes and hamstrings, something Harrington would normally do before arriving at a golf course.

Footballers and athletes often carry out similar exercises, only they usually run rather than walk backwards, but you rarely see a golfer going backwards, unless it's in terms of scoring.

Technically, that was the case for the four Irishmen who qualified for the weekend at the Scottish Open but for Harrington, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell, who move on to St Andrews for the Open Championship this week, the message was definitely 'no surrender'.

In fact, all three left Gullane taking positives from their game and looking to sharpen up for the challenge to come. Lowry and McDowell were in a group of 12 on six-under par at the start of play, which left them six adrift of overnight tournament leader Daniel Brooks.

They each carded a one-over-par 71 to close on five-under overall.

Harrington started the day at four-under par, moved to five-under, but ended up scoring 72 for two-under 278.

Michael Hoey was also at five-under after 54 holes. He started badly with a triple-bogey seven after losing a ball on the first hole. The end result was 77 and a two-over-par 282 total.

McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, was happy and relieved with his form and looks forward with renewed confidence to St Andrews.

Controlled

"I feel like I'm going in there quite sharp. I played well in the wind, and controlled the ball.

"A couple of 66s was what I needed under the belt to start feeling good about myself and my game. That was more like it, just what I needed.

"Thursday and Friday was the best I played this year. I'd like to have converted it to a top ten or top 15, but no big deal," he said.

Lowry played alongside 2014 Scottish Open winner Justin Rose over the weekend and both players felt that if they could tack on a few birdies and get to 10-under, they could pose a decent target for the later starters.

It wasn't to work out as planned for either golfer. Rose shot 76 for a level-par 280. Lowry did well to drop just one shot in his round. "I thought it was tough at the weekend, but the scoring was quite good, today especially.

"I played nicely the first couple of days, and then the wind got up yesterday and I struggled a little bit.

"I'm happy enough with how I am playing. I would have liked a better finish than that, but happy enough," said Lowry. This will be the Clara native's second Open at the Auld Grey Toon.

His first was five years ago and he remembers the special tingle of excitement of competing in the world's oldest championship at historic St Andrews in 2010.

"I remember loads about that week. I was out early on the Friday, I remember I was the group behind Louis Oosthuizen and he ended up winning it.

"I remember finishing my round 40th on Friday and by the end of the day I was 16th or 17th because of the bad conditions.

"I remember the big crowds, the big grandstands. It was the first proper big tournament that I played in," he said.

Lowry travelled the 70 miles from Gullane to St Andrews last night and will take a measured approach to preparations.

"I'm quite confident. I'm playing well. I won't practise too much, probably just play nine holes each day and see how it goes from there," he said.

Harrington didn't do much wrong, particularly over the weekend and his aim between now and Thursday is to sharpen up his short-iron distance control.

"I played pretty well the first part of the week.

"Obviously the three holes in the middle (bogey, double-bogey, bogey on 13, 14 and 15) were a bit of a blip. I didn't play as well today as I had the other days.

"I played very nicely the first couple of days but didn't really hit my short irons close.

Preparations

"At St Andrews, you've got to drive the ball well but then you've got to hit your 9-iron, wedge and sand wedge very well," he said.

Harrington, Lowry and McDowell will be joined at St Andrews by 2011 winner Darren Clarke and also by Irish international amateur Paul Dunne, who came through qualifying at Woburn.

Meanwhile, back at Gullane, Rickie Fowler snatched the Scottish Open title with a birdie three on the 460-yard par-4 18th for a 12-under-par winning total of 268.

His fellow American Matt Kuchar had set the clubhouse target at 11-under and all the indications were that a playoff would ensue.

Then Fowler, who had been two off Brooks' overnight lead on 10-under, produced his birdie to knock Kuchar out of the running.

There was one more twist in the tale, and Raphael Jaquelin of France almost provided the most amazing finish imaginable.

Jaquelin hit a monster drive on the downhill finishing hole.

He saw the scoreboard and knew only an eagle two would force Fowler into extra holes.

Credit to him, he produced a masterly swing with a wedge.

The ball soared into the sky, and dropped just over the flagstick, spinning back as it hit the putting surface, only to end up just two inches shy of a sensational two and a play-off.

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