Brandon Stone came desperately close to the first 59 in European Tour history as he won the Scottish Open at the Gullane course to cement his spot in the DP World Tour Championship in November.
Nevertheless, the South African’s outstanding round of 60 left him on 20 under par and set a clubhouse lead that never looked like being bettered.
The 25-year-old’s phenomenal final round performance sees him catapult up the Race to Dubai Rankings from 144th to 14th.
The 2015 Challenge Tour graduate last featured in the DP World Tour Championship in 2016 but his win in Scotland means he has comfortably strengthened his place alongside the top 60 players in the Race to Dubai in the prestigious event in Dubai as well as booking a last-gasp spot in this week’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
“To stand here as the Scottish Open champion is really incredible,” said the Pretoria native. “A day when you shoot 60 and win the Scottish Open is something I’m going to hold dear to my heart for a very long time.”
England’s Eddie Pepperell was four shots adrift after a 64 which also saw him qualify for the British Open and meant he would not be needed for commentary work at the third Major of the year.
As a result of his second place finish, the 27-year-old climbed 45 places in the Race to Dubai Rankings from 61st to 16th.
“I think it’s probably going be to the first week where I don’t lose about six shots on the putting green over the course of a week,” said Pepperell who has had to ditch an upcoming radio commentary commitment after securing a spot in The Open.
“That has been my achillies heel for a year. By and large I’ve hit the ball very well, particularly with my irons. So, I’ve felt for a long time that there were certainly potential scores for me, and there’s been weeks where I’ve done it and most where I haven’t.”
Not much has changed at the top of the Race to Dubai with Masters champion Patrick Reed still leading the charge on 2,856,584 points, Sweden’s Alex Noren in second, reigning Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood in third and Italy’s Francesco Molinari in fourth still with 17 events left to play before the season concludes at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
World number seven Rickie Fowler made the ideal start to his bid for a second Scottish Open title with an opening round of 64 at Gullane.
Fowler had a chance to card the first 59 in European Tour history after five birdies and an eagle took him to seven under par after 12 holes of the par-70 layout.
And although a bogey on the 13th was followed by five straight pars, that was good enough to share the lead on six under par with England’s Robert Rock, Sweden’s Jens Dantorp and Spain’s Scott Fernandez.
“The front was playing easier than the back and getting off and getting under par makes it a lot easier to hold on or try to get a couple extra on the way in,” said Fowler, whose victory at Gullane in 2015 prompted the members to rename the clubhouse bar in his honour.
“I got a couple early in the back nine and it would have been nice to keep it clean or, after the bogey, maybe make a couple more birdies coming in.
“But the back nine is playing tougher with where the wind is and could have presented some trouble, but I feel like we did a good job of avoiding that.
“I love playing links golf and being able to use your imagination and hit different shots. I feel like this golf course, you go around and you hit pretty much every club in your bag. You hit driver quite a bit. It’s just fun. Especially once the wind starts to blow a bit.”
Rock carded six birdies in a bogey-free round as he looks to secure one of the three places available in next week’s Open Championship for players finishing in the top 10, who are not otherwise exempt.
“It’s the last chance and it’s always disappointing to not play the Open,” said the 41-year-old, who finished seventh at St Andrews in 2010.
“I’m going as a coach anyway [he coaches fellow Englishman Matt Wallace] so I’ll be there. But I’d like to be playing.”
It may be the only major in 2018 where a career grand slam is not on the line, but the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie is set to fill the gap in sporting drama left by the World Cup.
Rory McIlroy went to the Masters in search of the win he needs to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four major titles, while Phil Mickelson did likewise at the US Open, only to dominate the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
When it comes to the US PGA Championship it will be the turn of Jordan Spieth to attempt to join golf’s most exclusive club, but first the American will be focused on becoming the first player in a decade to make a successful defence of the Open title.
Padraig Harrington was the last man to achieve the feat, following his play-off victory over Sergio Garcia – coincidentally at Carnoustie – in 2007 with a four-shot victory at Royal Birkdale 12 months later.
Spieth’s own victory at Birkdale came in remarkable circumstances, his three-shot 54-hole lead turning into a one-shot deficit after his fifth bogey of the day on the 13th, which involved a 20-minute ruling and playing his third shot from the practice ground.
But the 24-year-old somehow regained his composure to play the next four holes in five under par, card a remarkable closing 69 and finish 12 under par, three shots ahead of the unfortunate Matt Kuchar, who also shot 69 after a bogey on the last.
Whether Spieth is in the sort of form to retain his title remains to be seen however, the world number six finishing third in the Masters after a brilliant closing 64 but missing the cut in two of his last three starts, including the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Spieth should at least encounter similar conditions at Carnoustie, which promises to play hard and fast following the recent dry spell in Scotland. Throw in a healthy breeze and it could be “Car-nasty” part two, rekindling memories of the hardest Open in living memory in 1999.
On that occasion the combination of a severe course set-up and bad weather saw Paul Lawrie, Jean van de Velde and Craig Parry finish tied on six over par, with Lawrie going on to lift the Claret Jug in a play-off.
Van de Velde famously needed just to play the 72nd hole in six shots or less but contrived to make a triple-bogey seven which saw the Frenchman take off his shoes and socks to wade into the Barry Burn in a fruitless attempt to play out of the hazard in front of the green.
Lawrie is sadly absent due to injury but Tiger Woods will contest the Open for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews in 2015 as he seeks to end a decade-long major championship drought, as well as five years without a win of any description.
Woods was seventh at Carnoustie in 1999 and 12th in 2007, while he also played the course in the 1995 Scottish Open as an amateur. Since returning to action following spinal fusion surgery last year, the 42-year-old has threatened to get back into the winner’s circle, bouncing back from a missed cut in the US Open with a tie for fourth in the Quicken Loans National.
And the omens may well be in his favour given that five of the past seven Open champions – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson – have been 39 or older, while the dry conditions could be reminiscent of Royal Liverpool in 2006.
Woods famously used his driver just once all week at Hoylake, led the field in fairways hit and won his third Open title a month after missing the cut in the US Open. The precedent exists and although it is somewhat dated, there is no doubting a Woods victory would cap one of the most remarkable comebacks of all time.