THE Scottish summer has always been something of a farce. Nowadays, it is so bad it seems to be bordering on self-parody. There wasn’t much to laugh about at Dundonald Links as the third round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open unravelled in the kind of miserable weather that was as grey and as sodden as a night on a torpedoed battleship.
By the end of a trying day that required all and sundry to display a level of grim, clenched-teeth resolve, Ian Poulter, Andrew Dodt and Callum Shinkwin were perched at the top on nine-under aggregates.
It was a case of as you were scoring wise. Heading into the penultimate round, a trio of players were sharing the lead with nine-under totals. Nobody was going to burst away from the pack on a day like this, though.
Padraig Harrington, the double Open champion, was part of that triumvirate leading the way at the halfway stage but the 45-year-old’s challenge suffered a crippling blow yesterday as he wilted amid a turbulent 79 and slithered seven shots off the pace.
As Harrington plummeted, Poulter passed him on the way up. The 41-year-old weathered the storm with a one-under 71 which maintained his push for a first title since he captured the WGC HSBC Champions crown in 2012. If bridging that five-year title gap is not incentive enough for Poulter, the former Ryder Cup talisman has an extra motivation to complete the job in Ayrshire today.
“When I won the Volvo Word Matchplay Championship in 2011, I told my son before I went out that I would hand him a trophy on the Sunday for his birthday and I did,” recalled Poulter, whose son, Luke, has been part of a strong family representation here at Dundonald. “It would be awesome to win in front of him here.”
The phrase “brutal” was getting spouted in plentiful abundance to describe the conditions. And that was just the stoic, drookit spectators in the queues for the portaloos. “Birkdale in 2008 was pretty brutal and this slides in alongside that,” added Poulter by way of comparison.
While many were losing their heads, Poulter kept his. Mental fortitude is always a key weapon in the armoury when links golf is at its most tormenting.
“Attitude is everything,” Poulter said. “You can beat yourself up before you even get out on the course and that can be a big problem. You can do half the damage then. Starting with the right frame of mind is as important as anything else. You know it’s going to be tough, you know everyone else is going to have it tough. If you can grind out pars then you know you’ll have a good day.”
Poulter’s PGA Tour playing rights were under threat this year but having safeguarded his place on the US circuit, the 12-time European Tour champion has been galvanised. With The Open looming, the Englishman is revelling in his renaissance.
“Since securing my card there’s no question I feel better because of that,” added the world No 85. “A lot of pressure has come off my shoulders and I can get rid of expectations and just go out and play. The buzz is there. I feel energised and excited about the golf I’ve been playing.”
Poulter’s young compatriot, Shinkwin, kept himself in the hunt for a maiden European Tour win with a 72 for a 207. The 24-year-old former English Amateur champion has had more disqualifications than he has had top-25 finishes on the European circuit this season but a hard-earned level-par round, which was highlighted by an eagle on the 14th, left him very much in contention.
“I don’t think I’ve played in wind and rain like that,” said Shinkwin, who is well-versed in the quirks and challenges of the links game from his time in the top-level of the amateur scene.
Dodt, meanwhile, moved quietly into a three-way tie at the summit with a one-under 71. Like Shinkwin, Dodt is not exempt for next week’s Open but the duo are now in pole position to each seize one of the three tee-times available here. That could cause the Australian something of a dilemma. The 31-year-old, who was leading going into the final round of May’s BMW PGA Championship only to fall away, has booked a romantic getaway to New York with his wife, starting tomorrow.
“My wife only flew in from Sydney this morning but I’ll be quite happy to cancel the holiday for a spot in The Open, which will be my first Major,” said Dodt. Who needs the Empire State Building, Broadway and the Statue of Liberty in the Big Apple when you can revel in the delights of Lord Street and the Southport Pier eh?
Andy Sullivan winkled out a best-of-the-day 67 to vault into contention and sit just two off the lead while Graeme McDowell, the former US Open champion, upped the ante in his bid to grab one of the Open spots with a robust 68 which left him on five-under alongside American duo Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar.
“I have a bunch of buddies in the States who would die to be over here playing in these conditions,” said Kuchar with a grin.
They wouldn’t be so keen if they had to live here.