Harrington, McDowell full of optimism for Troon test
Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell travelled south from the Highlands to Troon last night with more positives than negatives to take from their challenge for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open championship at Castle Stuart.
McDowell did his best to make a run at 54-hole leader Alexander Noren, but the Swede proved impervious to all challengers on a captivating day's golf.
As Harrington finished before him, carding a 71 to finish on six-under overall, it was left to McDowell, the 2008 Scottish Open winner, to carry the hopes of Irish fans.
McDowell began his final round on eight-under, four adrift of Noren, and birdied the first hole to reduce the gap to three.
It was game on from there. The Ulsterman did little wrong on the remaining eight holes of the front nine, but could only fashion one more birdie, on the par-five sixth, for an outward score of 34.
The turning point came on the first three holes of the back nine, where McDowell made birdie chances on 10, 11 and 12, but could not convert any of them.
Around that period, he was one of 13 players within three shots of the lead.
The rub of the green went against McDowell on the par-four 14th where he hit his 142-yard approach to inside three feet, only to see the ball roll agonisingly back down a slope on the green and finish 20 feet away from the flagstick.
He got down in par there, then bogeyed 15 where he missed the green with his second shot, and bounced back with a birdie three on the 16th.
The rollercoaster ride continued with bogey on 17 and par on 18. McDowell signed for 71, one-under for the day, and five shots behind the eventual winner.
He now looks to Troon but values the four days at Castle Stuart which brought a stern reminder of the realities of links golf on this side of the Atlantic for the Florida-based former US Open champion.
"My game is in good shape," said the Ulsterman. "I think whoever wins the Claret Jug will have to battle conditions like the ones we're seeing here at the Scottish Open.
"For sure, links golf is all about weather. We've seen it all this week. This has been a really, really great preparation for next week."
Harrington revelled in the very difficult conditions of Thursday, and showed he can be a factor when the going gets tough on links, which is his favourite form of golf.
He was in contention for the Open at St Andrews last year until the sixth hole of the final round where a lost ball derailed his momentum.
"I was up there (Troon) last month. I played it and walked around it and got a good feel for it, so I don't feel like I have to do a lot of work the week before the tournament," he said.
"I'll go there looking forward to playing links golf, and ultimately I'll feel like if I get my head around it, I can compete. Last year I made a run at it for 59 holes, so it's not like I can't do it."
As the two Irish players looked ahead to the third Major of the season, Noren was relieved and happy in the aftermath of his fifth European Tour victory.
"I'm so happy it's over because it was a tough, tough leaderboard," he said. "A lot of guys were at 11, 12, 13, under, and it was not a cruising win at all."
"This is by far the biggest win. The amount of players that are here, and on a course like this in Scotland, it's only what I dreamt of growing up.
"It feels really good. Thinking about it this morning, how much it would mean, it feels like miles away. And now when it happens, it just feels unbelievable."
Noren carded a final round of 70 for 14-under par and a one shot winning margin ahead of his nearest challenger, England's Tyrrell Hatton, who shot 69.
Hatton's solo second spot came with a huge bonus, as he claimed one of the four qualifying places available for the Open.
Nicolas Colsaerts and Matteo Manassero, who finished tied-third with Danny Lee on 12 under, also got the nod for Troon.
Scotland's Richie Ramsay, who had Irishman Colin Byrne as his caddie, was delighted to take the fourth Open spot, shooting 67 for a tied-sixth finish on 11-under.
Michael Hoey, the only other Irish player to make the cut, closed with a 72 to finish on four-over par.