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Stone goes close to making history but secures Open place with stunning win

 

By Phil Casey

South Africa's Brandon Stone had the considerable consolation of winning the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and securing a place in the Open Championship after coming agonisingly close to recording the first 59 in European Tour history.

Portrush's Graeme McDowell was 63rd on three-under after a 71 and will not reappear until the RBC Canadian Open after missing out on qualification for The Open for a second year running.

Stone, who was a 1,000-1 outsider at the start of the week, carded eight birdies and an eagle in his first 16 holes at Gullane and needed to play the last two in one under par to break the magical 60 barrier.

But after making a par on the 17th, the 25-year-old missed from eight feet for birdie on the last and had to settle for a brilliant closing 60 to set a clubhouse target of 20 under par which never looked like being matched.

England's Eddie Pepperell finished four shots behind after a 64 which also got him into the Open and out of commentary duties at Carnoustie with BBC Radio 5 Live.

American Luke List, who was already exempt for the Open, former Masters champion Trevor Immelman and overnight leader Jens Dantorp shared third place on 15 under, with Dantorp claiming the final Open place ahead of Immelman thanks to a better world ranking.

Stone, whose victory is his third on the European Tour, said: "It's incredible. If I'm going to be brutally honest, I had no idea what my score was until I walked on to the 18th tee.

"It was just one of those days where everything went well, hit it great, holed some beautiful putts, and obviously to walk away with 60 having missed an eight-footer was a slight disappointment, but I won't really complain.

"My caddie came up to me on the 18th and said you don't get putts like this too often so I let him read it. I rolled it over his mark but he said it lacked a little bit of pace."

Stone was ranked 69th in the world in February 2017, but had not recorded a top 10 on the European Tour since and began the week 371st in the standings.

He also began the final round three shots off the lead but covered the front nine in 31 and picked up birdies on the 10th, 12th, 14th and 15th before holing a curling eagle putt from 30 feet on the par-five 16th to set up his shot at history.

"When that thing went home the emotions came flooding in," Stone added. "I had to really struggle to keep it in. It's been a long 18-month journey, making a few changes, but the swing felt incredible today.

"The putting felt even better, the mental state was flawless. So a day where you're shooting 60 and winning the Scottish Open is something I'm going to hold dear to my heart for a long time."

An emotional Stone also paid tribute to the tournament director of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in his native South Africa, Dan Sevel having died suddenly earlier this week.

"I took a little look up on the 18th fairway there saying this one was for all the boys back home that are going to be missing you for the next few months," he said.

Pepperell briefly held a two-shot lead after racing to the turn in 30 and picking up another shot on the 10th, but a three-putt bogey on the 17th effectively ended his chances.

"The only consolation is it looks like 18 under wouldn't have been enough," Pepperell said. "But on the whole I hit the ball great. Just obviously fell a bit short, but there's certainly a lot more positives than negatives."

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods found some unusual conditions as he enjoyed his first look at Carnoustie ahead of the 147th Open Championship.

Woods, who has not played in the Open since missing the cut at St Andrews in 2015, completed eight holes yesterday as he experienced at first hand the bone-dry course where he finished 12th in 2007 and ninth in 1999.

The 42-year-old said: "I have missed not playing The Open in a while because this is our oldest tournament.

"And then coming here to Carnoustie, it is special. This is my fourth time playing it as a tournament. From my first time coming here as an amateur to being back now, it's just amazing how this course doesn't change.

"It is right in front of you. It's hard. It's probably the most difficult one we play in the whole rotation.

"Right now the fairways are faster than the greens. I am sure they will probably speed the greens up a touch, but I'm sure this will be one of those weeks where the fairways are a little quicker than the greens."

Such conditions could suit Woods as he seeks the 15th major title of his career and a first since 2008.

√Derry's Ruaidhri McGee birdied five of his last six holes for an immaculate, eight-under round of 63 and a share of fourth in the Italian Challenge in Sardinia.

He finished three shots behind Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg, who shot a 65 to win by a shot from Norway's Erik Tage Hansen on 17-under with Michael Hoey and Gavin Moynihan tied for seventh, one stroke further back, after 67s.

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