Four years ago, a poll of Scots found that the nation’s favourite word is “dreich”, which says much about the Caledonian character. The definition: a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least four of those adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.
Sad to say, the third round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open over the Dundonald Links qualified comfortably. In fact, some might say the weather was “double-dreich”, so severe was the combination of wind, rain and plummeting temperatures at times. Still, as is inevitably the case, some players managed the conditions better than others. On a day that ended with a three-way tie at the top – Australia’s Andrew Dodt (pictured) and Englishmen Ian Poulter and Callum Shinkwin on nine-under 207 – the average score for the 65-man field was a commendable 73.77. European Ryder Cup player Andy Sullivan was best with a 67; 81s by Luke Donald, Renato Paratore and Peter Hanson the worst.
“I think I would have signed for that before the day started,” said Poulter, who shot 71 in search of what would be his first victory since the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions in China. “We knew the conditions were going to be really tough today. But I didn’t think they would be quite as bad as they were. On the 12th was about as tough as I’ve ever seen in terms of wind and rain. It was a job to hold the umbrella, let alone try to hit a 6-iron from 125 or 130, whatever it was – and even that didn’t get near the pin. They were brutally tough conditions. But I hung in there pretty strong. All in all, it was a good day. I feel excited to be in this position, and obviously I relish the opportunity tomorrow to try to put my hand on that trophy.”
Also round in 71, Dodt was equally pleased with his day’s work, although the Queenslander may have a problem on his hands if he claims one of the three spots available to the top-three finishers not already exempt for nest week’s British Open. Just before he teed off, Dodt’s wife Rachel flew in from Sydney, expecting to be off to New York on Monday for a five-day holiday. Instead, Southport may be beckoning.
“If I were to qualify for The Open my wife and I will be glad to change the holiday in New York and head south instead to Birkdale,” he said.
“I am 31 and I have yet to play in a Major and I would rather play in a Major sooner rather than later, so there is a lot of motivation to try and secure one of the three spots. But the big motivation is to first try and win this tournament, and the rest will take care of itself.”
As for Shinkwin, the 24-year old was simply pleased to be in position to win for the first time on the European Tour. So far this year, the former English Amateur champion has more DQs on tour than top-10s.
Not everyone is looking forward to another 18-holes, however. Henrik Stenson for one. Although the Open champion, who is level-par for the 54-holes played, acknowledged that a few days of links golf in rough weather is not the worst preparation for the defence of his title – “I would not be surprised if we have more of this next week at The Open. If so, this will have been a good rehearsal” – his enthusiasm for this week’s venue is minimal at best.
“It was a bit of a mixture out there,” said the Swede. “It was pretty nasty early on. Then it eased off for a bit. Then it got pretty bad around the sixth, seventh and eighth holes. For about an hour it was brutal. Then it eased again. Then the wind picked up. It was tough to keep everything dry. Even the little things were time consuming and hard work. It was so difficult to feel like you are making progress.”
Adding to the stress of it all was the fact that so many of the greens on the Kyle Phillips-designed course are elevated, thereby all but eliminating the low-running approaches that set a true links apart from so much of the golf played on the world’s professional tours.
“The difficulty here is that the course doesn’t really play like a true links,” Stenson continued. “It looks like a links off the tee and plays like it to a degree from the tee. But the designer, for whatever reason, wants everything up in the air – maybe because he comes from a place where there aren’t too many links courses.
“A lot of times out there I felt very trapped. Standing in many fairways you are trying to hit the ball very high to an elevated green. And when the turf isn’t too firm as it is this week, there are not many alternatives when it gets windy. You certainly cannot run the ball onto the greens. I would like to have seen a lot more entrances to the greens where a low shot was the best option. The greens too are overdone. There are so many severe ridges and slopes.”
In almost total contrast, and much happier after his (much earlier) day out by the Ayrshire seaside was Sullivan. With his low round of the day, the Englishman rocketed up the leaderboard into fourth place, two shots behind the leaders. Even he was erratic, however. Six-under par with three holes to play, he finished bogey, double-bogey, eagle.
“I’m going straight to my room, where I’m going to be doing all kinds of rain dances,” said Sullivan with a smile. “I might even get a voodoo doll out. I’ll be praying for it to rain and do all sorts.”
In the end, there was no need for any of that. Welcome to Scotland in the summer, lads.