Scottish Open: Molinari and Noren on top but much to play for
BRACE yourself for another last-day Scottish Open shoot-out. Even with two rounds still to go in the Highlands, it’s obvious no-one is going to be miles clear heading into the final circuit. Castle Stuart is that kind of course.
Even though Luke Donald won by three shots in the end 12 months ago, a posse of players were in contention with nine holes to go.
At the halfway stage this time around in the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event, Italian Francesco Molinari and Swede Alexander Noren are sharing the lead on 12-under but have Matteo Manassero, another Italian, and Argentinean Ricardo Gonzalez breathing down their necks, with India’s S S P Chorasia a further shot adrift.
Add in Donald, the world No 1, and 2009 winner Martin Kaymer both on nine-under, as well as three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson on seven-under, not to mention a host of others enjoying the birdie-feast on the banks of the Moray Firth, and it would take a brave man to try and pick out a winner at this point in the proceedings.
Molinari’s second circuit was untidy in comparison to his ten-birdie opening effort. It started with a bogey and also contained a triple-bogey 7 at the seventh, where he twice saw shots come back to him from below the green. But the six birdies that were mixed in saw him sign for a two-under 70 and a total of 132.
“I made a big mistake on 7, where I misjudged the lie in the rough and should have chipped it, but I fought hard to get some shots back,” he said. “Following a 62 isn’t easy, but I played really well coming in and to shoot under par was a very good result.”
On another windless day on the banks of the Moray Firth, Noren had set 12-under as the target in the clubhouse after a second successive 66. His card also contained a 7, which cost him two shots at the 12th, where a new tee that has created a better angle to the hole is proving a tad tasty so far this week. An eagle-3 at the sixth – he’d started at the tenth – repaired that damage and he, too, bagged a haul of six birdies.
“Putting was the key,” said Noren, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Thursday – the day his girlfriend, Emelie Lind, also won a women’s professional on a satellite circuit in Norway. “I practised a lot on the greens earlier in the week and feel comfortable with the speed of them.”
Both Gonzalez and Manassero made their moves with matching 64s, the latter recording seven birdies on his back nine to come home in 30. A two-time winner already on the European Tour, the 19-year-old former Amateur champion is one the players hoping to secure a single Open Championship berth up for grabs here.
He’s third reserve at the moment – behind American duo Ben Crane and Michael Thompson – but is hoping to be spared the dilemma of whether or not he should travel to Royal Lytham and wait in the wings. He’d love to secure that spot in style.
“I played really well in France but didn’t score as well as I should have there (finishing 17th behind Marcel Siem last Sunday),” said Manassero. “It has been very solid so far and I am feeling confident.”
Asked about this event being his last chance to play at Lytham, he added: “I’m one off lead going into the weekend so the aim is to try and win the tournament. That creates more pressure than trying to get into the top five to secure a place in The Open.
“If I do really well over the weekend, it can happen. Marcel did it last week and that was great for him. It is still a normal tournament for me at the moment. It’s a good position to be in. This is a great event. It is one of the most important we play each year on Tour and it would be really good to get the job done on Sunday.”
The teenager’s first visit to this neck of the woods was for the Scottish Challenge at Spey Valley in Aviemore. He didn’t like the cold on that occasion but is enjoying having links turf under his feet this week as he believes it helps compensate for the fact he’s not one of the game’s big-hitters.
“I’ve played a lot of links as an amateur and that helps a lot,” he said. “The memories are still fresh and maybe my game suits them [links courses] well. This is not a short course and I have added a bit of length through physical training and also changing some lines of the swing. But maybe because it is a links it is helping me compete.”
Donald is lurking dangerously. After two birdies in the first three holes, he went quiet before finishing with a flourish. “It was nice to finish with a couple of birdies,” he said after signing for a flawless 68. “I played just as good as I did yesterday, the only difference being that the putter was a bit cold.”
For the middle of July, the air yesterday was cold too. Donald, for one, wouldn’t mind the wind blowing a bit over the weekend as well.
“I’ve been working hard on my game and if I can test it out a bit in windy conditions, that will give me a little bit of a better feel for where I am next week,” he added.
Even at six shots back, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington will still feel he’s in with a chance, as will Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal and former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, both on five-under. Ernie Els is among those a further shot back, the big South African getting to six-under at one point before stuttering a bit thereafter.
Also still around for the weekend is Thomas Levet, the 2004 winner. The Frenchman had missed ten cuts in a row but stopped the rot with a 69 to stand on seven-under alongside Mickelson and a rejuvenated David Howell.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West