The Open 2021: 'Comfortable' Bob MacIntyre cards 65 at Royal St George's
It’s officially known as “Duncan’s Hollow” after George Duncan agonisingly failed to get up and down from just off the left side of the 18th green in the 1922 Open to lose to Walter Hagen.
Sandy Lyle then became part of the Claret Jug event’s folklore in the same spot at the Sandwich venue in 1985, sinking to his knees and burying his head in the turf after seeing an under-hit chip roll back to his feet before retrieving the situation by salvaging a bogey-5 to become Champion Golfer of the Year.
Now Bob MacIntyre has added to the Scottish story in that swale on the Kent coast, having rolled in a 60-foot birdie putt across the green to cap a five-under-par 65 – the best score of the day – in a testing breeze for the third round of the 149th Open edition.
The splendid effort moved the 24-year-old from Oban to four-under-par, giving him the clubhouse lead after jumping into a tie for 18th, having moved up nearly 50 spots on the back of his day’s work in front of 32,000 fans.
“Obviously it was a bonus there at 18,” said MacIntyre, flashing one of his warm and engaging smiles. “You are not expecting to hole that, you are just trying to get down in two. But my pace was great all day and I managed to put a good pace on it, had a decent line and it went in.”
In a week when he has been flying the Saltire on his own in the rescheduled event, the world No 53 had stretched his run of successful cuts in majors to seven in seven starts without seeing his overall game at his best.
He described this eye-catching performance, though, as “almost the perfect round of golf”. It was sparked by a 20-foot birdie putt dropping at the par-4 second, with further gains following at the seventh, eighth and 14th before a birdie-birdie finish.
“I just wanted to try and hole some putts today,” he said of his mindset setting out, having made the cut on the mark following opening rounds of 72 and 69. “I just needed to see one good one going in at the right pace to believe I can hole putts and that one at the second was an absolute perfect putt.
“It wasn’t the shape I prefer as it was a right-to-lefter, but it was perfect speed and when you get the pace right the hole becomes so much bigger. Even the one on 17, from my side it didn’t look that it was ever going to go in, but it had the right pace and it just dropped in.”
While MacIntyre may have been hitting the shots that thrilled family and friends in the crowd following his match in the company of American Brendan Steele, he heaped praise on his caddie Mike Thomson, having linked up with the Fifer last October.
“Mike is a great help in the wind and when the pins are tough,” he said. “He just kept on telling me, ‘stay disciplined with your target’. I always get daft and go at pins I don’t need to be going at. I felt we did a great job of sticking at what we are planning to do, just visualising it and executing it, simple as that, and today I felt I hit the majority of the shots the exact way I want to.
“The second shot at 18 was an exception as it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted to hit it, but the third one made up for it (smiling).”
On his debut in this event, MacIntyre tied for sixth behind Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush two years ago. Using that effort as a springboard, he’s continued to prove that he’s up to the challenge in the game’s biggest events, finishing in a tie for 12th as a first-timer in The Masters in April.
“I am fully comfortable,” he insisted of not only competing on these stages but also in terms of feeling that he can make his presence felt. “This is where I want to play golf. Every time I want to be competing against the best and you can only be the best if you are competing against them and beating them.
“I know what is already really good and I know where I need to improve. It’s just about keeping on moving forward and not looking back and see what has gone wrong or forever. I want to keep looking forward and how we can get better. If I can keep improving little bits here and there, we’ll do that.”
During last week’s Scottish Open, MacIntyre had spoken on more than one occasion about how felt “something good” was in the pipeline and, though he isn’t scared to be critical of himself, there was absolutely nothing to criticise on this occasion.
“I know when my game is good and I came away from last week knowing that my game is good,” said the 2019 European Tour Rookie of the Year and last season’s Cyprus Showdown champion.
“I just didn’t feel I got anything out of last week and it was the same the first two days here. Yes, I managed to get something out of it by making the cut, but I felt I had left something behind. Today was the foot on the gas again and it paid off.”
Asked if he might even afford himself a pat on the back, he smiled before replying: “I hit the shot on 17 and I said to Mike, ‘that was actually a good shot’ and sometimes I bum myself up as well as sometimes it’s even better than that (laughing).
“I will walk away from here, sit down and have a juice and whatnot and I will speak to the team and say, ‘that was a really good performance’. As much as you have to beat yourself up sometimes, you have to pat yourself on the back as well and keep your chest out.”
Something similar in the final round and MacIntyre will boost his hopes of making a Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits in September, having been on Padraig Harrington’s radar over the past few months but knowing he needs one really big performance to be a serious contender.
“Keep on going and see how far we can go,” said the Scot of his Sunday goal. “I’ve got a lot to gain just now. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that everyone knows about. I know fine well what a good performance here will do. Just keep playing free golf and keep seeing the putts go in and we’ll be alright.”