Renaissance man Matt Fitzpatrick lurking on Scottish Open leaderboard
Matth Fitzpatrick is lurking ominously in the Genesis Scottish Open - and not just because he’s walking tall as golf’s newest major champion after winning last month’s US Open.
In 14 competitive rounds there, he’s now broken 70 on ten occasions, including a second-round 66 this time around in a stiff westerly wind.
He tied for second 12 months ago and, feeling more confident than ever after his recent spectacular success at Brookline, Fitzpatrick looks in the mood to go one better in the $8 million Rolex Series event.
“It's a course I feel comfortable around,” said the world No 10, having catapulted himself up the leaderboard on the back of a second-day effort that contained six birdies. “I feel I can play well and shoot a low one round here.”
At the start of its Scottish Open story in 2019, the Tom Doak-designed course had the sting taken out of it by heavy rain at the start of the week before the four days passed with not even a puff of wind.
Later that year, Rory McIlroy said it had been “too easy” but, according to Fitzpatrick, changes made since then, the most recent having involved three-time major winner Padraig Harrington in a consultancy role, mean that is definitely not the case any longer.
“They've done a great job, I think,” said the Yorkshireman of the quest by the Sarvadi brothers - Paul and Jerry - to create the best possible test for an event that is being co-sanctioned between the DP World Tour and PGA Tour for the first time as part of a Strategic Alliance.
“When everyone first got here, I think it was not ideal for preparing for The Open, especially with this weather, now it's definitely a good test. Last year was a bit firmer and this year is really firm.
“I feel like it's more of a test this year, the rough is much longer than in previous years and a couple of bunkers on holes makes it really interesting. I think it's a decent golf course to come and play in preparation for an Open Championship.”
Since January, Fitzpatrick reckons he’s enjoyed the best form of his life and he’s hoping there’s more still to come this year. “It's either been top 15 or missing the cut and, if that's the case the rest of the year I'd happily take it,” he said.
“Missed cuts hurt no matter how well you're playing but, if I can keep doing what I've been doing and having a good plan, there is no reason why I can't maintain the level I'm at or just below it. I do believe in myself, I do believe I can keep playing well.”
Despite his lofty position, though, it sounds as if he’d rather keep his best stuff for next week rather than producing that over the next two days here. “No disrespect to the Scottish Open, but the four majors are what is most important on a golfer's calendar so everyone wants to peak for those weeks,” he said.
“But I think it's important to play well the week before. For me, an ideal scenario would be not quite having my game but near or thereabouts and then it all clicks next week.”
Everything seems to be clicking nicely at the moment for American Xander Schauffele. Fresh from winning the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor earlier in the week, he’s sitting alongside Fitzpatrick on three-under after a best-of-the-day 65.
“Overall, definitely happy with where I'm at,” declared the Olympic champion, who signed for an eagle and five birdies. On playing a links course in the wind, he added: “I enjoy the challenge, and I've always enjoyed trying to tap the field a little bit more.”
PGA Tour journeyman Tringale leads by three shots at the halfway stage after adding a 72 to his opening 61. He briefly led by six strokes before running up four bogeys in a row but rallied to cover his final eight holes in level-par.
“Well, it was definitely more difficult for me today,” admitted the 34-year-old Californian. “Yesterday, it seemed pretty easy, and today, it seemed like every hole was a grind to make par. So happy to be done and happy to be off the course and get some rest.”
Gary Woodland, the 2019 US Open champion, and yet another US player, Doug Ghim, are Tringale’s closest challengers after rounds of 72 and 69 respectively, with Englishman Jordan Smith, who won cars for both himself and his caddie for a hole-in-one at the 17th, and Kurt Kitayama both alongside Fitzpatrick and Schauffele.
“I just want to keep going out and trying to play the best I can and hopefully get a good low one in tomorrow,” said the leader. “I mean, the course I think is still gettable, honestly, even in the wind. I just need to play the par 5s a little better, and work on those into-the-wind shots and I should be all right.”
Rickie Fowler and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, the winners in 2015 and 2017 respectively, are both on two-under, one ahead of a group that includes Scot Connor Syme and South African Justin Harding.
Along with Harding, two other LIV Golf players - his compatriot Branden Grace and Spaniard Adrian Otaegui - are through to the weekend, the odd one out being Ian Poulter.
Syme led five Scots into the closing 36 holes, the others sitting on three-over David Law, Ewen Ferguson, Russell Knox and Marc Warren.
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