Xander Schauffele out in front in Genesis Scottish Open after perfect links golf day
This was golfing heaven. A glorious summer’s day with a stiff breeze blowing in the air. It made for an enjoyable third round in the $8 million Genesis Scottish Open for both players and fans at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian.
In the event’s 40th edition, American Xander Schauffele is in pole position heading into the last lap in the Rolex Series tournament, which is making history as the first to be co-sanctioned between the DP World Tour and PGA Tour.
Earlier in the week, the Olympic champion showed his parkland prowess by winning the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Ireland. On the evidence so far, he’s switched seamlessly to links golf.
His 65 on Friday was the best of the day. Six-under through 16 holes, he was on course to achieve the feat again before finishing bogey-bogey. His 66, which matched earlier efforts from Max Homa and Jordan Spieth, was still a fine effort.
Sitting on seven-under, Schauffele leads by two shots from Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, the 2017 winner at Dundonald Links, with Spieth, another US challenger Ryan Palmer and Englishman Jordan Smith in a group one further back.
“I had pretty much everything going,” said Schauffle, a six-time PGA Tour winner, of picking up shots at the third, sixth, 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th to storm ahead of the overnight leader, Cameron Tringale. “I was judging the bounces well, I was making the putts I needed to, getting up and down when I was missing the greens.
“But It was a tough finish, so I’ll go to the range and get some better feels for tomorrow but those are hard finishing holes. But I’m pretty okay with the day.
“It would be very nice to win here, very special, but I don’t want to think too far ahead. It’s just proof my game can travel, I’m competing against an incredible field, one of the best of the year. So I am just going to focus on what I can do now. I’m getting more comfortable leading from the front, I haven’t done it too often.”
With all due respect to Schauffele and the others sitting near the top of the leaderboard, Spieth would be a hugely popular winner in the sport’s cradle.
Seven years ago, he had the whole world willing him on when, having already landed The Masters and US Open, he arrived in St Andrews for The Open bidding to take another step towards a grand slam.
The Texan gave it a bloody good go, missing out on a play-off won by his compatriot, Zach Johnson, by a single shot. Spieth will be a man on a mission in next week’s 150th edition of the Claret Jug event, but, for now, he’s excited about this winning opportunity.
“I had to think, my Open was in England, not here!” he replied, smiling, to being asked what it would mean to taste victory on Scottish soil. “Links golf is arguably my favourite kind of golf.
“And I don’t know of any country that has more fantastic links courses than Scotland with it being the home of golf. It is the history of golf, so it would be meaningful to win Scotland’s national championship.
“But the fact it’s now a co-sanctioned PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Rolex Series Event, it seems like it’s one of the biggest international events of the year. I’m just happy to be in position.”
Three time-time major winner, who issued a statement on social media on Friday night in a bid to kill off talk about him defecting to LIV Golf, eagled both the tenth and 15th, where he holed from 108 yards, to catapult himself into contention on his debut in the event.
“My goal was to come in here and have a chance on Sunday, it always is the week before a major,” he said. “There’s no better prep than winning the week before a major. Having said that, being in contention gives you as much prep as possible. I’m glad to be in the position I am in.”
After a 74, Tringale sits four shots off the lead along with compatriot Alex Smalley and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who will be hoping that an eagle at the 16th will ignite his last-day challenge.
In a mouth-watering sideshow, three Open spots are up for grabs in this event, with Cabrera-Bello, Palmer and Smalley leading the way in that battle, which is also set to include recent LIV Golf winner Branden Grace and 2015 Scottish Open champion Rickie Fowler in the last throw of the dice.
David Law, who secured his Open spot through the Phoenix Irish Open last Sunday, reckons playing in the wind over the past few days has highlighted some deficiencies in his links game.
“We’ve got a bit of work to do,” said the Aberdonian after carding a 72 to sit on five-over, having finished bogey-bogey. “I'm not too happy with where it’s been the last couple of days, but we will be right as rain come Thursday.”
Law will be making his major debut in St Andrews, having joined Paul Lawrie, his manager and mentor, in the field. “It’s just fine-tuning,” he added. “When you play in the wind, little things creep in and your set up changes, so you need to guard against that.
"When you finish your round you need to reset and recalibrate your set up. This week can take its toll with the way the wind’s been.”
Russell Knox (69) is on two-over, one ahead of both Connor Syme (74) and Marc Warren (70), with Ewen Ferguson sitting on four-over following a 71 in the company of world No 6 and Players’ champion Cameron Smith, who signed for a 68.