It was Fifer Brian Soutar who tipped Brandon Stone to go all the way to the top of the golfing ladder. “He’s going to be a star,” declared the Leven man after beating Stone on home soil to win the 2012 South African Amateur Championship. Six years on, Stone has lived up to that prediction. He’s the new Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open champion, having claimed that crown in style at Gullane.
The 25-year-old had a golden chance to create history by recording a first ever 59 on the European Tour. From eight feet at the last, it’s an opportunity he should really have taken. A closing 60 was still a new course record, though, trimming a shot off the score posted by Japan’s Hideto Tanihara late on Friday. Giving him a 20-under-par 260 total, Stone won by four shots from Englishman Eddie Pepperell.
The pair both secured spots in this week’s Open Championship at Carnoustie as an added bonus for their work over the four days on the East Lothian coast, as did Swede Jens Dentorp, who pipped former Masters champion Trevor Immelman by virtue of a better world ranking after they finished joint-third alongside American Luke List on 15-under-par.
On a day when Russell Knox, bidding for back-to-back wins after claiming the Irish Open title at Ballyliffin seven days earlier, had the wind taken out of his sails by a double-bogey 6 at the first and ended up joint-49th, compatriot Stephen Gallacher produced a brave bid to get himself into the season’s third major. He had only three fellow non-exempt players ahead of him in that particular battle after being five-under for 16 holes before a bogey at the penultimate hole put paid to that. He ended up joint-ninth, though, and now has four top-10 finishes to his name in this event.
The day, though, belonged to Stone. His two previous European Tour triumphs had both been on home soil – the BMW SA Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship, both in 2016. This success will be every bit as sweet, though. On a day when a gentle morning breeze dropped away in the afternoon, the man from Pretoria produced a breathtaking performance. Bogey-free, it contained an eagle and eight birdies. He left a birdie putt agonisingly short at the 17th then sank to his haunches after failing to convert that chance to be a history-maker at the last. It was the 18th time that a player had signed for 60 on the European Tour, with Darren Clarke achieving that feat twice and Scott Jamieson in Portugal in 2013 having been the last to do it.
“It’s incredible,” said Stone, who won nearly £900,000. “It was just one of those days where everything went right. Obviously to walk away with 60, having missed an eight-footer, was a slight disappointment, but I won’t really complain. To know I was the best player in Scotland this week is something close to my heart. To record a win that is not in South Africa and to win a Rolex Series event on a links course in Scotland is spectacular.”
On a leaderboard that was tightly packed at the start of the day, Pepperell burst ahead after covering the first 10 holes in six-under only to be overtaken by Stone after he moved up a gear. “Obviously, I fell a bit short, but there’s certainly a lot more positives than negatives,” said Pepperell, who had been lined up for radio work at Carnoustie but will now have a club rather than a microphone in his hands.
Immelman, who is working for the Golf Channel in Angus, had also been hoping he’d forced into a change of plans, but that final spot went instead to Dantorp on the strength of him sitting 322nd in the world rankings compared to the South African in 1,380th. “That was the main goal of the week and it was nice to grab that final spot,” said Dantorp, a 29-year-old from Malmo.
List, who’d led after an opening 63, closed with a 64. That proved the perfect end to a memorable week for the American in East Lothian. “My dad passed away three years ago and, having had special memories with him over here, we were able to spread some of his ashes around different parts of the area,” he said. “He loved Scottish golf and I know he’s looking down and smiling right now.”
Rickie Fowler, the winner here in 2015, had to settle for a share of ninth on this occasion after he closed with a 68 for 13-under. “I think it’s been a successful week in getting ready for the Open,” said the American.
Justin Rose, the 2013 champion, finished a shot further back alongside Gallacher. “I played a lot better than I have been, so I’m delighted,” declared the Scot of his fourth top-10 finish in his home event. “I’ve worked really hard on my game this week and you get confidence from hitting good shots out on the course. You can start to post some numbers when that’s the case. I feel if I can keep my game like that, I can have a chance of competing and maybe knock one off before the end of the year.”
Two off the lead at the start of the day, Knox had high hopes of becoming the first home player to claim this prize since Colin Montgomerie in 1999. That start put paid to that possibility, though, and a closing 75 left him 14 shots behind Stone in joint-49th.
“I probably should have went with 3-wood off the first, but I went with driver and just hit it right off the toe, and away it went,” said the Invernessian. “I wouldn’t have expected I would have had a chance to win this week, but I did. A good tee shot at No 1 and everything might have been different.”
Connor Syme signed off his Scottish Open debut with four straight birdies for a 67 to finish joint-32nd on eight-under, while Jamie McLeary (68) and Duncan Stewart (71) ended up in a share of 58th on five-under.