It was one that got away and it still hurts. “It was a sore one at Castle Stuart,” admitted Marc Warren as he reflected on squandering a three-shot lead over the final four holes to see the Scottish Open title agonisingly slip from his grasp at the Inverness venue in 2012.
While it was played as the Standard Life Loch Lomond at the time, Colin Montgomerie, with his 1999 success, is the only home player with his name on the Scottish Open roll of honour, making what happened to Warren eight years ago all the more disappointing for the Glaswegian. “To this day, I still think about it and wish I had done one or two things differently,” he added of losing out to India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, “but I also feel like I learned from it.”
To his credit, Warren has overcome the scars to get in the mix again a couple of times in the event since then, finishing third again behind Justin Rose at Aberdeen in 2014 then claiming fourth spot as Rickie Fowler triumphed at Gullane the following year. “My record has been pretty strong since it moved away from Loch Lomond,” he noted. “Looking at my finishing positions, it’s a record to be quite proud of.”
The 39-year-old, who returned to winning ways on the European Tour with victory in the Austrian Open as the circuit came out of lockdown in July, is ready to roll the dice again. Rescheduled after being postponed in July due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Aberdeen Standard Investments-sponsored event takes place this week at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian for the second year running.
The circuit’s biggest event since it got up and running again, it is missing some top Americans on this occasion due to the fact they are reluctant to travel at the moment. However, major winners in Rose, inset, Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett are being joined by world No 17 Tommy Fleetwood in their battle for a $7.5 million prize fund on the strength of it being a Rolex Series event.
“It’s still the Scottish Open, it’s still our national open, it’s as big as it has ever been,” said Warren in reply to the tournament being played behind closed doors.
“I think on that note, since ASI have taken over it has gone from strength to strength. Obviously, it’s great when you have crowds and the atmosphere builds as the tournament goes on. In the tented village, from ASI and VisitScotland, they do such a great job making it the whole fan experience away from just purely a golf event. That has been growing year on year as well.
“To lose out on that a little bit this year is frustrating for everyone. But, if you are standing with the trophy on Sunday, you are still the winner of the Scottish Open, it’s taking absolutely nothing away from you. It would probably be that moment of celebration for a home winner with friends and family there that you would miss out on, which is sad, but I think the most important thing is to have the event go ahead safely and securely.”
Having won a World Cup alongside Montgomerie in China and also tasted success on Scottish soil in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, Warren reckons it wouldn’t be a case of feeling his career was incomplete if he got to the end of it without managing to win this event. “I don’t look at it in that sense,” he insisted. “I would love to win it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve got no right to win the Scottish Open.”
Last year’s first visit to The Renaissance Club coincided with a rare occurence of no wind whatsoever over the course of four days on the East Lothian coast. That, coupled with the Tom Doak-designed layout having been softened by heavy rain at the start of the week, resulted in Austrian Bernd Wiesberger posting a winning total of 22-under-par.
Rory McIlroy, who was also in the field, claimed the course set up had been “too easy”, but it’s unlikely anyone in the line up will be saying that this time around because, for starters, the rough is a lot thicker than last July and, on top of that, it’s not being played the week before The Open on this occasion, so there’s no need to make it feel as though players are being wrapped in cotton wool.
“If anyone played at the start of the week last year, the course was playing quite tough,” said Warren, who has been struggling a bit with back and hamstring issues since recording his fourth tour triumph but first in close to six years in Austria, of the 2019 event. “There was a bit of breeze, greens were firm, although not overly quick.
“Also, where it usually is in the schedule, everyone has got to respect it’s such a great week that ASI have got with the Scottish Open, a week they deserve with the support they have given the event and the Tour over the years. You can’t make it too difficult in terms of the course set up the week before a major, guys don’t want two brutal tests back-to-back. It would scare guys off coming to play and getting their game ready for links golf.
“When you have a more gentle set up, I suppose, from what it could be in a regular week and then – probably the wrong phrase to use – a perfect storm of weather where it had been so dry, then we got a downpour of rain, and then no wind to speak of at all for the week. I think it was either a new record, or tied the record, for the lowest cut, but that was just purely down to good, sensible course set up and then absolutely perfect weather. On any tour anywhere in the world, guys are going to shoot low scores with those things combining.
“For this year’s event, I’ve heard that the greens are quicker, the fairways are pretty similar but the rough is a lot thicker. I think we’ll see an entirely different test to what we did last year.”
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