Until the third round finishes tonight, it’s difficult to actually tell who is the “real” leader in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Technically after two rounds, it’s Englishman Ross Fisher following eye-catching efforts of 65 and 68 at Kingsbarns and St Andrews respectively. But he’s got Carnoustie, the toughest of the three tests in the £4 million event, to come today.
Which means that Swedish duo Joakim Lagergren and Alex Noren, who sit one and two shots off the pace respectively, are probably in the better positions as they head for their third rounds at St Andrews before it all eventually unravels in time for the top 65 and ties tackling the Old Course tomorrow.
In truth, it’s all a bit of a guddle until everyone has completed three circuits, but, while Carnoustie also awaits for Marc Warren today, the Scot reckons his toughest test of the week is already out of the way, though you’d probably be surprised to hear that is actually Kingsbarns.
Whereas it has been the scene of some of the lowest scoring in this event over the years – Peter Uihlein, for example, shot 60 there three years ago – Warren invariably struggles at Kingsbarns and did so again on Thursday. Three-over after three, the 35-year-old was delighted to salvage a level-par 72. His “usual score”, as Scott Jamieson, Warren’s closest friend on Tour, pointed out.
“Over the years, that’s where I’ve struggled most to score and the guys seem to shoot the lights out,” said Warren, who finished fifth in this event in 2011. “I just don’t see a score around it at all. Obviously I know the course well enough, but I just don’t seem to visualise the shots well.”
It’s not a problem he has at St Andrews, as the three-time European Tour winner proved by carding a six-under-par 66 – it equalled the best effort of the day there – to catapult himself into joint fifth, five shots behind Fisher. On a far from easy day – it was cold, windy and a bit damp at times – Warren’s card contained six birdies in the opening 12 holes. His only blemish of the round – a bogey at the 17th – was repaired by dispatching his approach from 99 yards at the last to around two-and-a-half feet. “Here, you know where the flag is and you hit it on the right, but I just don’t see that at all at Kingsbarns,” he added. “Today was pretty solid golf.” It certainly impressed his pro-am partner/sponsor, Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive Martin Gilbert. “Marc is such a good player and all he needs is a bit luck,” said Gilbert at the back of the 18th green.
It would be timely if he got that over the next couple of days. Sitting 125th on the Order of Merit, Warren needs a decent cheque, either here or in the next couple of events, to hang on to his card as the exemption he gained from winning the Made in Denmark just over two years ago expires at the end of this season.
“It’s been a frustrating season so far,” admitted Warren, who certainly wasn’t looking for an 11th-place finish, which he achieved in the Czech Masters, to be his best effort in 25 previous outings. “At times it’s been good; at times it’s been poor. When it has been good I’ve not taken advantage of it. But I’m pleased with how I feel this week and it’s just a matter of going out and just letting myself play.”
Fisher came close to landing this title eight years ago, losing out to Swede Robert Karlsson in a play-off that also involved Martin Kaymer. The 35-year-old’s most recent outing also ended in agony as he was pipped by Frenchman Alexander Levy in a shoot-out for the European Open title in Germany just under a fortnight ago.
For his last four events, though, Fisher is now a combined 35 under par. “I think I’ve made over 50 birdies in 11 rounds of golf, so that shows that the golf is good,” he said. “At the same time, there have also been too many mistakes, but hopefully I can keep the good golf going for two more days and can be there or thereabouts come Sunday.”
It was a contrasting day at Kingsbarns for Ryder Cup team-mates Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood. While a double-bogey 6 at the 17th took the gloss off somewhat, man of the moment Pieters carded a 68 and, sitting alongside Warren, is certainly a factor as he moves on to St Andrews today. “If I put a really low one there, I’ll be right in it,” he declared.
Westwood, alas, heads to the Old Course trying to restore pride after crashing to an 82 – his worst score since running up an 83 in the 2002 US PGA Championship at Hazeltine. It left him last. Ouch!