MATTEO Manassero used a visit to Aviemore as a stepping stone to becoming the youngest PGA champion.
Fellow Italian Edoardo Molinari also showed his potential in the Highlands before landing two European Tour victories in Scotland, the latter helping secure a Ryder Cup debut. In Brooks Koepka, though, the Scottish Hydro Challenge could have unearthed its most exciting talent yet.
Already up to 153rd in the world rankings less than a year after turning professional, the 23-year-old American has set tongues wagging on the Challenge Tour in the same way Martin Kaymer did when the German arrived on the second-tier circuit seven years ago before becoming a major winner, then holing the winning putt in a Ryder Cup.
“Raymond Russell has played with the likes of Greg Norman, but says he’s never seen a better player than Koepka,” reported Banchory’s Greig Hutcheon, a three-time Challenge Tour winner after seeing his third-round 64 at Spey Valley eclipsed as the Floridian went two shots better to equal the course record set earlier in the week by Northern Ireland’s Alan Dunbar and Korean Byeong-hun An.
Chris Kelly, another home player who saw his day’s work - a 65 - overshadowed by Koepka’s flawless nine-birdie effort in the shadow of the Cairngorms, concurred. Referring to one of his playing partners in the opening two rounds in the £190,000 event, the Glaswegian said: “Michael Lorenzo-Vera is a guy who’s been on and off the main Tour and says Koepka is the best player he’s seen in his life.”
An, the youngest US Amateur champion after claiming that title as a 19-year-old in 2009, and Englishman Steven Tiley share the lead heading into the final round on 15-under-par but, breathing down their necks, Brooks is the man to beat. He’s got two Challenge Tour wins – three in total – under his belt already this season, having followed up a seven-shot success in Italy by finishing ten clear of the field in the Canary Islands earlier this month. One more victory will earn instant promotion to the European Tour.
If that’s delivered today, his first appearance on the main circuit will be 30-odd miles up the road in next month’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart as he’s heading home for a well-deserved break after playing eight out of the last nine weeks. “I’m tired of living out of a suitcase and also tired of golf, to be honest,” he declared, though it certainly didn’t show on another day of remarkably low scoring on Speyside.
“I decided to show up today,” added Koepka, who shares a condo in West Palm Beach with Peter Uihlein, another American who has been rewarded for spreading his wings after winning the Madeira Island Open this season. “I’m anxious to get home and was starting to feel a little angry. But I talked to my parents and agent after my first round and they said I should relax and take it easy as I only had three rounds to go before I got home.”
On a day when play was suspended for around 90 minutes following a torrential downpour, Tiley, a 30-year-old from Kent, stepped up his challenge for a top prize of £30,000 with a nine-birdie 63, while An illuminated his 65 with an eagle-3 at the 12th.
Koepka shares the same management company as both Sandy Lyle and Martin Laird and also has a Scottish caddie in Mike Thomson, but Ayrshireman Jack Doherty and Grantown-on-Spey’s Duncan Stewart are the leading home players with a circuit to go, the pair sitting just three off the lead on 13-under after signing for matching 68s.