Even the leader, Swede Alex Noren, didn’t like what the weather gods had in store for Castle Stuart this time. “I don’t like the rain,” he admitted as the windy conditions on Thursday, in particular, and Friday were replaced by wet and horrible stuff for the afternoon of the third round in the £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
As the players – not to mention 9,587 hardy souls – began the drying-out process, Noren found himself with a two-shot cushion in the battle for a top prize worth close to £550,000. It was earned by two closing birdies in a 68 for a 12-under-par total. His closest challengers heading into the final circuit are Italian Matteo Manassero (68) and Englishman Tyrrell Hatton (66).
“I’d prefer it to be windy tomorrow,” said Noren, a four-time European Tour winner but seeking his first success since returning from a wrist injury that forced him to miss the entire 2014 campaign. He has been lightly raced this season, but that is due to becoming a father. “This is only my 11th tournament this year and I feel both fresh and hungry as I chase what would be a huge win,” he said.
Hatton hails from High Wycombe but has a Highlands connection. His mum now lives in Tomatin, having moved north after remarrying. “Her husband’s family live in Inverness so I hope to have a bit of support tomorrow,” said the 24-year-old. The last time he was in contention in this event – at Royal Aberdeen two years ago, when he finished fourth – he was criticised by commentators for being histrionic. He didn’t have too much trouble keeping his emotions in check, though, as he barged into the mix again with a 66 that was sparked by a birdie-eagle-birdie start.
A fascinating last-day sideshow will be provided by the battle for four spots up for grabs in the Open Championship at Royal Troon. Hatton and Manassero can lock up two of them with strong finishes, while South African Justin Walters, joint third with Kiwi Danny Lee, and Frenchman Romain Wattel, stepped up their bids to move on to Ayrshire this week by carding matching 65s – the best of the week so far. Wattel won the 2010 Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship at Gailes Links, where he was due to play in the final qualifier before pulling out. Now he has opened up another avenue into the event.
Just over a fortnight after winning a car worth £140,000 for a hole-in-one, Richie Ramsay came close to another ace in his 70 to sit joint ninth on six-under. This one would have been an albatross as it was at the 306-yard par-4 third. “It was nearly in,” said the Aberdonian, who is also hoping to leave here with the added bonus of an Open spot in the bag, of a three-wood that ended a foot behind the hole. He had hoped for a lower round but is ready to give it his all on the last day in a bid to become the first home winner of this event since Colin Montgomerie was victorious in its forerunner at Loch Lomond in 1999. “I stayed patient today and played smart when I didn’t have my A game, but hopefully I can come out with my A game tomorrow,” said Ramsay. “I also need to have a little bit more belief as I chase a low one because I needed to be a bit more aggressive today, especially on the back nine.”
After surviving Friday’s cut by the skin of his teeth, David Drysdale surged through the field on the back of a 66 that included two eagles – one from ten feet at the third, the other courtesy of a 4-iron to 18 feet at the sixth. The Cockburnspath man’s best score since the last round of the Hong Kong Open nine months ago was a polished performance all round as he was within 20 feet at all but one hole. “It’s a shame that I didn’t convert a few more of my chances, but I’ll take it,” said Drysdale after jumping 42 spots to joint 23rd on six-under.
Two behind after a frustrating day is local hero Russell Knox. “I threw away a couple there when I certainly didn’t need to,” he said of a 70 – the same Phil Mickelson, the 2013 winner here, signed for to sit on one under – that was summed up by a bogey-bogey-birdie finish. “I played better than two under, so it is disappointing not to turn that into a score.”