England’s Robert Rock, whose last win was his career-defining victory over Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi in 2012, carries a two-shot lead into the final day of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open after a deluge of rain made the third round a torturous ordeal for the field.
The biggest surprise was that they actually got finished. When the final group of Rock and Lucas Herbert came down the 18th, it was in a gathering gloom with the electronic scoreboard and the lights of the Renaissance clubhouse acted as necessary illumination of a final green surrounded by casual water.
Rock’s one-over 72 – his playing of the last five holes in par was the key to it and he had putts for birdies at the last two holes – got him in at nine-under with his two-stroke advantage on Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Australia’s Wade Ormsby and the young Swede Marcus Kinhult.
This part of East Lothian is not immune to the odd storm. Over the wall at Muirfield they had one of the most famous 18 years ago which effectively halted Tiger Woods’ Grand Slam bid that year, but that was a short, sharp afternoon shock compared to this, an all-day long, drawn-out torture.
It was so bad that even Rock wore a hat for once, and those of us using snoods as facemasks started using them for their original purpose.
Lucas Herbert, the overnight leader by a shot, was out of the sole lead at the first with a three-putt, and was out in 41 with a triple-bogey at the eighth. Lee Westwood hung about a bit longer but four bogeys in six holes after the turn sent him tumbling.
Poulter is known as an arch-grinder and meticulously keeping his tools dry, he got to the turn in two-under and the outright lead at 11-under. But three shots went at 12, 14 and 15, and although he reset well, he missed a four footer at the last for a fourth bogey and a round of 73.
“That was as tough a day as I’ve played in 21 years,” said Poulter.
“I thought when I played in Muirfield when Ernie won the Open that was some of the worst conditions I’ve ever seen. It was a shame towards the end it just got unmanageable really, but front nine I played some great golf.
“You’re basically trying to hold onto a golf club, not trying to hit golf shots. You’re doing everything you possibly can not to let a club come out of your hands.”
Fleetwood’s 69, finished off with an 18-foot birdie putt at the last in the worst of the weather was a heroic effort, but no worse than he’s had on his native Lancashire links down the years.
“The prize money that we play for, going out in a bit of bad weather is fine,” he said. “There’s nothing about today that got me and (caddie) Finno down. It almost got so bad that we were laughing about it towards the end.
“It was one of those days that are enjoyable and testing. If you can handle yourself in those conditions and that weather then you should be proud of yourself and hold your head up high.
“You’re going to have to do that sometimes. My ultimate dream is to win the Open and I might have to do it in weather like this one day.”
The rain was relentless, but not quite the ordeal earlier in the day it was to become for the leaders. With the softened greens and only light winds, there was plenty of ground to be made up especially on the easier front nine.
The re-routed Renaissance had a little more bite on the higher ground next to the water, the 13th and 14th in particular, and some gains were to be lost there. Still Adri Arnaus of Spain, Malaysia’s Gavin Green and the former Ryder Cup hero Victor Dubuisson all moved up with four-under 67s.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, who made the cut on the mark after at 67 on Friday, returned a 68 to jump to 20th by the time he came off, chilled in terms of temperature but also demeanour.
“It wasn’t too bad until 14 or 15, when you started feeling the wind coming in sideways,” he said. “The breeze is starting to get up a bit now and the rain is getting heavier. I hope they stay out there all day now, it’s only fair.”
MacIntyre didn’t feel he deserved to be three-over after his first round, and is feeling confident about the long-term prospects.
“In the last two days I’ve hardly missed a shot, just one tee shot today,” he said.
“My game has been good and I’m finally starting to see improvement in the putting, which is starting to show in the scores.
“It’s about going out and enjoying myself in the final round. Obviously Mikey [Thomson, his new caddie] is trying to learn a lot this week due to it being his first week and I feel we are doing the right things.
“Friday’s round of four-under could easily have been eight-under. The signs are there and, once it all comes together, I am going to have another good week somewhere.”
By the time the leaders limped in sodden and dishevelled, MacIntyre and fellow Scots Marc Warren (70) and Grant Forrest (72) were up to a tie for 10th and four off the lead, so that good week could still be this one.