In-form Xander Schauffele wins highest-scoring Scottish Open for more than 20 years
Remember The Renaissance Club being a pushover when it first staged the Genesis Scottish Open in 2019? Well, not any more, as the strongest field in DP World Tour history can testify.
Admittedly helped by the test being stiffened and a decent breeze blowing for all four days, the event’s latest visit to the East Lothian venue, featuring 14 of the world’s top-15 players and won by American Xander Schauffele, proved its toughest examination in more than 20 years.
Not since Lee Westwood’s win at Loch Lomond in 1998 had the title been landed with a single-digit total. Seven-under – one less than Westwood’s aggregate – did the trick for Schauffele in the $8 million Rolex Series event.
"I can guarantee you that next week at St Andrews the winner is going to shoot a lot better than these scores this week,” observed Scot Russell Knox as he summed up the test on this occasion on the Tom Doak-designed course.
Referring to work that had been carried out in the past 12 months with three-time major winner Padraig Harrington involved in a consultancy capacity, Knox added: “Everything they’ve done to add to the course has been great in my opinion.”
Schauffele, the Olympic champion, is on a roll heading into next week’s 150th Open at St Andrews. This was his third title triumph on the trot, having already landed the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour a fortnight ago then adding the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland at the start of the week.
“It's been incredible,” he said of the hot streak, with this latest win earning him $1.4 million. “The Travelers and this one were very different but equally as rewarding in their own ways.”
He didn’t have his best stuff on the final day here, but that didn’t stop him creating history by winning the first event to be co-sanctioned between the DP World Tour and PGA Tour.
“It's what links golf promotes, getting the ball in the hole,” said the new champion. “I was telling myself that, it doesn't really have to be pretty and it wasn't, but I got the ball in the hole and one better than everyone else.”
Two ahead at the start of play, the 28-year-old from San Diego – he’s the second player from that city to land this prize after Phil Mickelson did the trick in 2013 – looked to be coasting to victory as he started birdie-birdie to quickly open up a four-shot cushion.
But trouble is always just around the corner on a links course. From a bunker on one side of the green at the short sixth, he found another one on the opposite. That led to three shots being dropped in four holes.
As a result, he turned for home trailing compatriot Kurt Kitayama, who went on to set the clubhouse target with a closing 66 that saw him finish on six-under. Korea’s Joohyung Kim came up one short after dropping a shot at the last as he closed with a 67.
By then, Schauffele had found his stride again at just the right time. He knocked in a 15-footer for a birdie-2 at the 14th then followed that with another gain at the par-5 16th. A nine-footer saved par the 17th and, despite a bogey to finish, it was job done again for the world No 11 with a closing 70.
“I came out of the gates very nicely and kind of hit a wall and was looking a bit sketchy for a little bit and it was nice to sort of steady the ship on the way in,” added Schauffele after joining Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Tom Lehman and Michael Allen on the list of Americans on the event’s roll of honour.
Mickelson, of course, went on to become Open champion seven days later after his title triumph at Castle Stuart in 2013. Hoping he can repeat the feat, Schauffele, smiling, said: “I'm not sure if that's like a curse or something.
“I'm going to ignore all the media as much as possible. There's a few guys who like to tell me about history and all, but I'm obviously in good form and going to try to carry that into next week.”
In addition to a hefty cheque, runner-up Kitayama, who was pipped by Bob MacIntyre for the DP World Tour Rookie of the Year title in 2019, secured one of three spots on offer in that milestone Open, with the others going to another American, Brandon Wu, and Welshman Jamie Donaldson as they finished joint-sixth on three-under.
“It’s massive,” said Donaldson, who hit the winning shot in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, of his success on that front. I’ve played in it before at St Andrews (in 2015) and it will be great again. I love it there. How can you not.
“It’s massive, although we had a holiday booked for next week, so I don’t think my missus will be too happy. But she can have a lovely holiday on her own.”
Tommy Fleetwood, the runner-up in 2020, set up a chance of going one better after covering the opening 15 holes in four-under before dropping his only shot of the day at the last.
“A bit disappointed,” said the Englishman of that sign-off. “But, overall, I played great today. I'll be frustrated for about 20-25 minutes and then we'll look at the good stuff and then move on to next week.”
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