Connor Syme’s Scottish Open debut may have started inauspiciously with a lost ball from his opening tee shot on Thursday but it’s picked up considerably since then. He’s in the mix, in fact, heading into the weekend in the $7 million Aberdeen Standard Investments-sponsored event after carding a scintillating eight-under-par 62. That was a new course record for the composite championship layout at Gullane until Japan’s Hideto Tanihara came in late in the day with a 61.
Syme’s best round in his fledgling professional career catapulted the Fifer up the leaderboard. After another low-scoring day – the wind has barely blown over the first two days – he is six shots off the lead, held by Englishman Robert Rock.
Out in the afternoon, when there was one heavy downpour, Rock backed up his opening 64 with an equally impressive 63 to sit on 13-under. He’s bogey-free for 36 holes, having gone out in 31 and 30. On a leaderboard with plenty of English flags on it, Rock leads by two shots from Tyrrell Hatton, a double Dunhill Links winner, and Swede Jens Dantorp.
Rickie Fowler, the winner here in 2015, is a shot further back on 10-under, having fared a lot better than compatriot Phil Mickelson. The winner in 2013 at Castle Stuart, he missed the cut along with Rafa Cabrera Bello, the defending champion.
Syme, who turned 23 on Wednesday, was up at 4.45am for his second round but almost tumbled out of his bed on to the course. He’s staying in a house that overlooks the 18th green and is only 300 yards from the first tee. “David Morgan, the club secretary, put us in touch with a couple who have been happy to host us,” said last month’s Shot Clock Masters runner-up of how that convenient residence came about. “I was aiming at the house on 18 off the tee.”
He birdied that, having earlier made the start he was looking for an opening 71 with three gains on the spin before adding birdies at the fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th. It was a brilliant morning’s work. “I’ve had eight-under a few times, but that’s my lowest score,” he said. Did he think about shooting 59, a feat never achieved on the European Tour? “Briefly going down 10,” he admitted. “But I knew shooting 30 on the back nine would have taken some doing.
“I wasn’t actually thinking about the course record, to be honest. To have a five-under round to make the cut was the main goal. I would have taken a 63 but getting a birdie at the last was a bonus. Being my home Open, I was a bit more nervous than I might have been on the first tee on Thursday, when I made a poor swing and ended up losing a ball. I felt sick going up the first, but this gives me a good platform to build on.”
Alongside Syme on seven-under is compatriot Russell Knox, who reckoned his 67 was “probably my best round of the year” as last weekend’s Irish Open win at Ballyliffin and a hectic schedule recently finally caught up on him. “After about three holes, I felt like I’d got hit by a bus and I couldn’t focus all day,” he said. “I’d said at the start of the week that at some point I would crash and burn, and that might have just happened. So I was proud of myself the way I hung in there.
“I tried to just completely check out after I’d hit – I just went away with the fairies – then when it’s my time to hit I’d flick the switch and get into it as much as I could. You can’t concentrate for five hours out there feeling like this, but if you can concentrate for ten seconds standing over the ball hopefully 67 times or less then I can pull through. In between those moments I was thinking about everything from cheeseburgers and lasagne, to whether I’m going to nap for two hours or three after the round. Days like this just shows that a good round of golf isn’t just judged on hitting pure shots.”
Five Scots are through to the weekend, the others being Duncan Stewart (five-under), Stephen Gallacher (four-under) and Jamie McLeary (four-under). Peter Whiteford undid his opening 65 with a 74 to miss out.