ONE major champion and another player being tipped heavily to become one are lurking ominously at the halfway stage in the £3.25 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. Daniel Brooks may be leading, but the unheralded Englishman has Justin Rose and Shane Lowry breathing down his neck heading into the weekend’s play at Gullane.
Rose, the defending champion, reckons he’s only been “running about 50 per cent” so far, yet is in contention to create history by becoming the first player to win this event back-to-back. He’s just three off the lead along with Lowry, who is really blossoming into an exceptional player under the tutelage of his Edinburgh-born coach, Neil Manchip.
On a day that started with drizzly showers but saw the East Lothian course playing as benignly as you’ll ever get, really, it was a case of shaken, not stirred for Rose. The Englishman was visibly shocked after hitting an elderly spectator with a pulled drive at the 16th and leaving him bloodied. According to Marc Warren, one of Rose’s playing partners, it caused a young spectator nearby to faint.
“It’s never a nice feeling,” said Rose of the unfortunate incident. “He was an elderly gentleman, but he took it like a trooper. I think he got weak at the knees and was on the floor resting, but he came around pretty quick. He said, ‘I’ve been coming to golf tournaments for years and years and I’ve never been hit’.”
It was probably just as well for the world No 7 – the highest-ranked player in the field – that he’d made his move up the leaderboard by then. After starting with a bogey, Rose was soon in full bloom, picking up five birdies in seven holes from the second. With a second successive 66, he’s on eight-under. Three back, it’s a nice position going into the final two circuits, but he claimed there is “room for improvement” heading into next week’s Open Championship at St Andrews.
“There were definitely some good elements out there, but I would say I’m running about 50 per cent,” said the 2013 US Open champion. “I’m not saying that I’d be sitting on 16-under if I’d been at 100 per cent, as it doesn’t always translate to your score. But this golf course has probably let me away with a little bit – I’ve hit a couple loose shots – in the last couple of days.”
Enjoying the new test for this event, Rose revealed what he was looking for on it over the next two days before heading across to Fife for the season’s third major. “My mindset feels good right now. I feel calm,” he said. “I just want to get clearer with my pre-shot routine and feel more free over the putter. Just get that freedom, which is what you are going to need down the stretch in a major.”
On the back of top-10 finishes in both last year’s Open Championship and, more recently, the US Open at Chambers Bay, Lowry is being talked about in some quarters as a live contender in the upcoming Claret Jug joust. “I think in recent weeks a lot of people have got caught up in talking about me winning majors, but I have a lot to achieve before I win one,” said the 28-year-old Irishman after matching Rose in carding a brace of 66s. “If one gets in the way between now and then I’ll take it happily, but that’s the way I feel about the way my career is going.
“I’ve matured a lot in the last year and everything in my whole life is a lot more stable than it has been and I feel my golf is reaping the benefits of that. I’ve just moved into a new house in Dublin recently and got engaged so stuff like that is always going to put you in a good frame of mind.”
Lowry, who said he prefers parkland golf but won the Irish Open on a links at Baltray, has worked with Manchip, the Irish national coach, for more than a decade. “My first boys’ coaching session with the Golfing Union of Ireland was the same day that Neil started,” he said of the one-time Turnhouse member who beat a field that included Darren Clarke to win the 2007 Irish PGA Championship before opting to concentrate on coaching.
“Neil is a very close friend of mine,” added Lowry. “He’s not just my coach; he’s the first person I would go to if I was struggling or in trouble because I can tell him anything. He is a great influence on me and has been for a number of years. It’s great to have someone like that around you.”
Brooks, a 28-year-old from Basildon, followed up the 64 he had come in with late on Thursday night with a 65 that included an eagle and four birdies, including the last two holes. The late thrust earned him a three-shot lead over six players, including Rose and Lowry, with American Ryan Palmer (65) and 2008 winner Graeme McDowell (66) also among those sitting on 132.
Can Brooks keep that lot at bay? In truth, it’s doubtful. After all, he’s languishing 528th in the world, having missed 30 cuts since landing a first European Tour triumph 13 months ago. It came in the Madeira Islands Open, beating Scott Henry in a play-off, but the victory was overshadowed by the death on the course of caddie Iain McGregor. “That wasn’t a nice feeling,” he said of those sad circumstances, “and it was no time to celebrate. But I’ve been there and done it so hopefully I can have a good weekend.”
He described some of his golf since the win as “terrible” but has started to see signs of improvement in recent weeks. “I played some nice golf in France (where a second-round 66 helped earn a first cheque since early February),” he said. “To miss that many cuts is hard. It does get you down. But it only takes one good week out here and hopefully that’s what I’m about to have.”
With a posse of players tightly grouped behind the new leader – Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, the first-round pacesetter, missed the cut after slumping to a 77 after an opening 63 – an exciting final two rounds lie ahead and it could really get interesting from here. After two favourable scoring days on the East Lothian coast, the weather forecasters are predicting it to be “very windy” for day three and testing, too, for the denouement.