Alex Noren has held his nerve to keep his pursuers at bay and win the Scottish Open by one stroke, just two days short of his 34th birthday. Brendan James reports.
BY BRENDAN JAMES IN SCOTLAND
Alex Noren is fast-gaining a reputation as one of professional golf’s great front-runners.
And so it was again, this time in the north of Scotland where Noren slept on a 54-hole lead and was able to keep his pursuers at bay on Sunday. With a mix of quality ball-striking and a cool head, the Swede marched on to a one-stroke victory in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. In all five of his European Tour victories dating back to 2009, he has held the 54-hole lead and gone on to win.
Just two days short of his 34th birthday, Noren closed with two under 70 to finish at 14 under, one shot clear of England Tyrrell Hatton (69), who is still searching for his maiden European Tour victory.
Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts (66), Kiwi Danny Lee (69) and Italy’s Matteo Manassero (70) all finished a further shot back at 12 under and tied for third after an overcast final day.
"This is by far the biggest win. The amount of players that are here, and on a course like this in Scotland, it's only what I dreamt of growing up,” said Noren, whose previous two victories have been on home soil at the Nordea Masters in 2011 and again last year.
"Now I'm just so happy it's over because it was a tough, tough leaderboard. There were a lot of guys at 11, 12, 13 under and it was just not a cruising win at all.
“Thinking about it this morning, how much it would mean, it feels like miles away. And now when it happens, it just feels unbelievable."
Noren started the final round strongly with a birdie at the 2nd hole but he didn’t take advantage of further opportunities over the next few holes. When he bogied the 8th hole, Lee joined him at the top of the leaderboard.
Colsaerts then entered the frame with an eagle at the par-5 12th hole, followed by three consecutive birdies had him within a shot of the lead, alongside Hatton and Manassero.
But the patient Noren knew he had birdie chances in front of him. On the 12th, he converted a long-range two-putt birdie to go one clear and three holes later he played the best shot of the final round. His long iron approach on the tough par-4 15th settled within six feet of the hole and led to another birdie, which ultimately proved to be the difference.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the event was the return to form of Manassero. The 23-year-old, who won four European Tour titles before turning 20, has been sadly out of form for more than two years. In fact, his last European Tour top-10 finish was at the 2014 Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.
At the start of this Scottish Open, the former World No.20 was on the verge of falling outside the top-600 as his struggles continued after making swing changes to find more distance.
"I'm really happy of course, to play well in such a big event for me," said Manassero, whose last victory was in 2013.
"Right now it's a great relief from a lot of things and I'm glad that I handled myself really well in this week, which was not easy at all.
"It's a while since I've been in this position and I'm very happy. All these struggles and hard work and stuff are obviously paying off and hopefully next time I'll be holding a trophy."
Manassero, Hatton, Colsaerts and sixth-placed Richie Ramsay, of Scotland, all previously not exempt into The Open Championship this week, have earned a start as a result of their high finish.
Queensland’s Andrew Dodt was the best placed Australian, having finished with a five under 67 to move into a tie for 39th. Fellow Queenslander Scott Hend had a share of the lead after round one, but faded over the following three rounds to finish at two under and tied for 45th place.