Scottish Open: Jeev Milkha Singh cashes in to take title in play-off
ANOTHER week, another heartbreaking tale for Scottish sport. Seven days after Andy Murray’s Wimbledon woe, Marc Warren suffered a Castle Stuart sickener as he let a winning position slip agonisingly from his grasp in the £2.5 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Three ahead with five to play in his home event, the 31-year-old had “never felt more comfortable” and reckoned he was on “a victory march” only to stumble disastrously over the closing stretch, his pain being shared by the majority of the fans as their expectations of witnessing a joyous occasion also turned to anguish at the Inverness venue.
A double-bogey 6 at the 15th, where he three-putted from 20 feet, opened the door for the chasing pack, with India’s Jeev Milkha Singh being the man who ultimately took advantage after beating Italian Francesco Molinari in a play-off to claim the coveted title and a first prize of £416,660.
Warren compounded matters by then dropping shots at both the 16th, where he had to take a penalty drop after finding a gorse bush with his drive, and 17th, going from three in front to one behind playing the last, where he was unable to secure the birdie he needed to join Singh and Molinari in that title shoot-out. Rubbing salt into his wounds, Warren discovered that he’d also missed out on the spot up for grabs in this week’s Open Championship, which went to Singh instead as he had also arrived in the Highlands without an exemption for Royal Lytham. Little wonder then that Warren admitted he was heading off to drown his sorrows. “I might need a little bit help to get to sleep tonight,” he sighed.
Two shots behind leader Molinari at the start of the day, the Scot made what looked to be a telling thrust with three birdies on the trot from the tenth but eventually signed for a closing 71 and a 16-under-par total of 272. “It was surreal how easy it felt until that point (the 15th),” said the Scot, who attributed the lie he found in the long wispy grass there for being unable to find the putting surface with his second shot.
“I probably lost my concentration with the putt,” he added of the three-footer that slipped past the hole and cost him two shots. He was unfortunate to find the spot he did at the next, the only option from the gorse being a penalty drop, and another shot was gone after he raced his pitch at the 17th well past the hole.
“I was playing flawless golf and everything I’ve been working on with my coach (Pete Cowen) was ready to be achieved,” added a shell-shocked Warren. “I felt as calm as I have ever done on a golf course and could only see myself crossing the finishing line.”
The positive for Warren, a two-time European Tour winner, was that this had been the first time he had found himself in contention for a while. This time last year, in fact, he had lost his Tour card and was having to rely on invitations for the main circuit. That’s safe again now and, having secured a cheque for £140,750 here, a place in the season-ending Dubai World Championship is a realistic goal.
“The crowd were unbelievable and it should have been a victory march for me out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t finish it off but I look forward to it being on the other side of the coin next time. This definitely won’t haunt me as there are more important things in life. Losing my Tour card was a lot worse as you don’t know where you are playing next in that position. So, in a funny way, this feels great even though I’ve lost.”
On a day when a welcome wind finally allowed Castle Stuart to show some teeth – it played nearly three shots harder than it had in benign conditions on Saturday – it felt almost as though Singh had crept in the back door to secure a fourth European Tour win and 19th overall in his career. The 40-year-old closed with a flawless five-under 67, having gone out in a splendid 32, before holing from 12 feet for a birdie at the first extra hole.
It denied Molinari a wire-to-wire win, the Ryder Cup player having either led on his own or shared the lead ever since opening with a course-record ten-under 62 on Thursday. It also foiled his bid to complete a family double by emulating younger brother Edoardo, the winner at Loch Lomond two years ago. The good news for Paul Lawrie was that Molinari’s play-off loss kept the Scot in third place on the European points list for the Ryder Cup.
“The golfing gods were kind to me today as I never expected to be in a play-off,” said Singh, whose father, Milkha Singh, just missed out on a 400m medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics and whose story is being made into a Bollywood film at the moment. “My flight wasn’t until 8.30pm, so I was enjoying a cup of tea and some chocolate cake as I watched the television and suddenly got excited.
“This is one of the best wins of my career. To win in the home of golf in tough conditions – it was a true test of golf out there – gives you a lot of confidence.” He was planning to make a trip home to visit family in India this week but is now hoping maintain this form at Lytham. “It is the icing on the cake,” he added, appropriately enough given his choice of post-round snack.
In the end, Warren had to settle for a share of third with Swede Alexander Noren (70), while Peter Whiteford (72) and Martin Laird (74) finished joint-eight and joint-16th respectively. Whiteford’s performance earned him a cheque for just over £56,000, lifting him 45 places to 103rd in the Race to Dubai. “I’m disappointed how I played today but the most important thing this week was getting a good finish and I’ve done that,” said the Fifer.
Laird, who played with Phil Mickelson for the third time this week, saw his chances of a home win – he started out just three off the pace – disappear due to a poor day on the greens. “I struggled with the pace all day,” he said. “From 30-40 feet, I was coming up five or six feet short a lot of the time.”
Mickelson, who signed off with the same score and 12-under total - an identical final total to world No 1 and defending champion Luke Donald, who closed with a 73 – said he’d had a “great week”.
He added: “Playing in challenging conditions today was a plus and there are a couple of areas I now know I need to work on for next week.”
If failing to secure a spot at Lytham was a sore one to take for Warren, his sporting agony has now been well and truly compounded as the keen Rangers supporter saw the Ibrox club placed in the Third Division at the end of last week.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West