It was a day that ended in a combination of Swede dreams and Scottish success. Alex Noren, who turns 34 tomorrow, handed himself the perfect early birthday present by clinching the biggest of five European Tour triumphs by claiming a one-shot victory in the £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. Just as happy, though, was Richie Ramsay as he secured a last-gasp trip to Royal Troon by being among the four lucky players to come out of a fascinating sideshow at Castle Stuart with Open Championship spots.
First things first. Noren was a worthy winner, having hit the front at halfway at the Inverness venue and resolutely refusing to be budged from top spot over the final 36 holes. On a day when the later starters enjoyed the best of the conditions as morning rain gradually eased off, Noren closed with a 70 for a 14-under-par total. His last-day effort was solid rather than spectacular but, nonetheless, it proved out of the reach of playing partner Tyrrell Hatton, who birdied the last to claim second spot on his own as the Englishman finished a shot ahead of Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts (66), Kiwi Danny Lee (69) and Italian Matteo Manassero (70).
“It sounds good to be Scottish Open champion,” admitted Noren, who picked up a cheque for a whopping £583,330. “It is a big win for me and I’m delighted it has come on this course, which has a good mix of holes. It’s not tough all the way round and I think players like that.”
The Monaco-based player had been on Colin Montgomerie’s radar for the 2010 Ryder Cup after making his breakthrough the previous year before his career stalled due to a wrist injury that ruled him out of the entire 2014 campaign. Having used a second Nordea Masters win last year to announce he was on the way back and now followed it up with this impressive Highland fling, watch out for Noren to really start making up for lost time, starting at Troon this week, when Henrik Stenson now has strong back-up in Swedish golf’s bid to land that elusive first major.
Having used four birdies on the spin to spark a last-round charge, Ramsay had the title in his sights heading for home. The 33-year-old may have missed out on that target, but it wasn’t down to either a lack of good effort or good play. He gave himself chance after chance down the stretch. On another day, he could well have landed a fourth European Tour title. Tidy compensation, though, for finishing joint sixth came in the form of the Troon ticket he secured along with Colsaerts, Manassero and Hatton.
“Standing on the tenth tee, I knew I could win the tournament and was trying 100 per cent to do that,” he declared. “That’s a great feeling and I just have to take that into this event in the future and see if I can get the title in the bag one of these years. It is fantastic to have qualified for The Open. I don’t think I’ve done myself justice in my previous appearances, but this time we’ll be taking our little daughter Olivia, who is four and a half months old, and I think she will enjoy her first major. It’s more of a treat for her.”
While there was to be no fairytale hometown win for Russell Knox, he was understandably pleased to have climbed into the top ten by the finish, signing off in style in his first outing in this event here with seven birdies, including one from around ten feet at the last, in a 67 for 279.
“It has been amazing,” he said of playing in front of his ain folk. “I had so many friends I’ve known for years walking around and I wished they could have waited for me around the back and I could have talked to every one of them. It would have been incredible to win but I was happy with the way I played this week.”
The performance has boosted his hopes of making a Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine later this year. “It is always nice to hole a putt at the last – I always like to do that,” added the 31-year-old, who finished alongside Patrick Reed in joint tenth after the American also finished with a flourish to card the same last-day score.
Phil Mickelson, the 2013 winner here, saved his best for last on this occasion as he closed with a flawless 66 that included an eagle-2 at the ninth, where he holed from 99 yards. Out in the morning rain, the five-time major winner wore a black glove on each hand to combat the conditions and believes the mix of weather over the four days in Inverness can stand him in good stead for Troon, where the forecast is for something similar.
“It was a terrific week as I was able to see all conditions – strong wind on the first day, half the wind on Friday and today the rain,” said Mickelson after an effort that catapulted him up 36 spots into the top 15. “That gives me the experience of all the potential conditions for next week. My game certainly feels better after today’s round, but my lag putting really cost me three or four shots a round in the first few rounds, so that’s an area I have to work on.” And the gloves? “I started wearing them the year Darren Clarke won The Open [at Royal St George’s in 2011] on the Sunday,” he said. “It was the first time I really did that and had some success [finishing second].”
David Drysdale finished alongside Mickelson after a closing 69 that included his third eagle in two days, this one at the 16th repairing the damage caused earlier in the round by a double-bogey 6 at the ninth. It also proved a profitable weekend for Jack Doherty, who’d earned his place in the field by winning the qualifier at Lossiemouth. The Team Scottish Hydro player picked up a cheque for close to £20,000 – double his previous best on the European Tour – for finishing joint 45th.