Raphael Jacquelin has eyes on prize in Gullane

Raphael Jacquelin on the 13th green at Gullane Golf Club. Picture: Jane Barlow
Raphael Jacquelin on the 13th green at Gullane Golf Club. Picture: Jane Barlow
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RAPHAEL Jacquelin has taken part in two Scottish Open celebrations, spraying Gallic compatriots Thomas Levet and Gregory Havret with champagne after their respective wins in 2004 and 2007. Now the 41-year-old is hoping it will be his turn to be showered in bubbly at the end of the event and continue its “French Connection”.

In the toughest conditions so far on the £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored tournament’s first visit to Gullane, Jacquelin harnessed his game impeccably in a stiffening westerly breeze to sign for a flawless six-under-par 64 in the third round. It moved him to 11-under for the event and right in the mix heading into today’s final circuit. Not just for a £541,660 top prize but also three spots up for grabs in next week’s Open Championship.

He is lying second, one shot behind Englishman Daniel Brooks, who recovered manfully from an awful start to keep his nose in front. After a 69, he is on 12-under, just ahead of Jacquelin, with American Rickie Fowler (66), Dutchman Joost Luiten (66) and another Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood (67) all a further stroke back. With home hope Russell Knox also in the hunt after a 66 – Eddie Pepperell and Matt Kuchar, too, after they had 65 and 67 respectively – a thrilling last day looks in store, with Jacquelin determined to be the one celebrating once it is done and dusted.

“I’m ready for that,” said a smiling Jacquelin of the champagne spraying which has become a tradition among the French players following a win by one of them on the European Tour. “I was there at Loch Lomond after the wins by Thomas and Gregory. You can see on the picture of Gregory that he was covered in champagne. They did that for my first win in 2005 and we now do it every time. It’s good fun.”

Golf hasn’t been much fun at all recently for the 41-year-old Swiss-based player. He had missed five cuts in a row before stopping the rot with a welcome top-25 finish in France last weekend.

“The last three months have been really difficult for me,” admitted Jacquelin after his six-birdie salvo. “I’ve been struggling to hit the ball on the fairway and on the green. I’ve been practising hard, working on my game as usual. But, in golf, sometimes it takes a long time to come back. It’s starting to feel better and maybe it’s the new Raphael coming back.”

This is an event that seems to bring out the best in the four-times European Tour winner. He finished second to Martin Kaymer in 2009 then third to Edoardo Molinari 12 months later – both at Loch Lomond – and has two more top-10 finishes to his name. “I’ve got some good memories from the Scottish Open,” he admitted. “It has always been a good pleasure to come to Scotland and to play well. So I will try again to keep smiling tomorrow, even if the ball doesn’t go in the hole.”

Led by Victor Dubuisson and Alexander Levy, the French have an exciting new crop of top players. Starting today, though, Jacquelin is hoping to show there is still life in the old guard. “We’ve got a lot of young guys all playing well and it gives you some motivation to keep going, to keep working hard,” he said. “It’s been tough recently but it’s my 20th season on Tour and I’ve never lost a card, so I can’t really complain. It’s part of the job and golf is getting really difficult. As soon as you’re not 100 per cent, you’re not going to play the weekend. That’s why we keep working hard to be in that position I will be in tomorrow.”

On yesterday’s evidence, Brooks won’t be giving up top spot without a fight. Three ahead at the start of the day, the 28-year-old from Basildon got off to a nightmare start. His opening drive was carved into the right rough – probably the worst spot anywhere on this composite Championship Course. He re-loaded just in case but found the first one. It needed two hacks to get back on the fairway, though, and a double-bogey 6 went down on the card.

Clearly feeling the pressure – that was only natural for a man who had missed 30 cuts since recording a breakthrough win in the Madeira Islands Open 13 months ago – Brooks also played the second poorly but salvaging par there was a boost. Settling down, he picked up three birdies in five holes from the fifth. After a level-par back nine, he ended the day where he started it, though with a one-shot advantage not three.

“It’s good to get off to a bad start and hold it together,” said Brooks. “It was playing tough and cold in the wind so it was nice to carry on the way I have been playing. I hit a lot worse shots today but scrambled and putted well.

Fowler, who catapulted himself into contention with an eagle at the 16th, where he rolled in a long one after finding the green with a 3-wood from 270 yards, said he’d love to win this event as a tribute to his childhood coach Barry McDonnell, a third generation Scot. “Due to those Scottish ties, it would definitely mean a lot to me to win this event,” said the American after signing for a 66. He would also like to emulate Phil Mickelson by doing a Scottish Open-Open Championship double. “That would make for a successful trip for sure,” admitted Fowler.

Finishing his round as the flagsticks started to bend in the wind, Fowler spoke of how much he is enjoying this new examination for the event. “You have to be patient and have to accept some bad bounces here and there. But it’s a good test and today was one of those days,” he said.