The biggest win of Aaron Rai’s career, at the Scottish Open, was notable for Tommy Fleetwood’s painful play-off moment.
Having produced a wonderful birdie at the 72nd hole to force his way into sudden death with Rai, Fleetwood was the clear favourite to prevail at the Renaissance club in East Lothian. That sense was endorsed as Rai found a pot bunker from the tee as they replayed the 18th.
Yet Fleetwood, who earlier missed from close range for a birdie at the 16th, was to experience the kind of moment that will sting and, without being cruel to Rai, resonate as the key moment of this $7m championship. Fleetwood watched a five-foot putt for a four slide by, thereby handing the trophy to Rai. “It’s not nice to see that,” admitted Rai of Fleetwood’s aberration.
“I hit a poor putt and that’s the end of it really,” said Fleetwood. “It was Aaron’s time and Aaron’s week. Congratulations to him. It’s disappointing. Of course you always look at the positives, but I messed up on the first play-off hole and that’s that.”
Rai’s closing round of 64 for an 11-under total meant he had no cause to feel for Fleetwood; this was an outstanding performance in one of the European Tour’s marquee events. “This is an incredible feeling,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to sum up.” A week earlier Rai narrowly missed out on a play-off at the Irish Open.
Fleetwood’s trouble on the greens had been evident earlier. “Putting cost me throughout the week,” he said. But for that, he would have won the Scottish Open in regulation time. The 29-year-old Southport man at least has little time to rue events in Scotland, given he competes in the PGA Championship at Wentworth from Thursday.
Until recently Rai was most notable for the wearing of two gloves when playing. The understated 25-year-old from Wolverhampton, who is of Indian and Kenyan descent, will now move inside the world’s top 100 for the first time. He has a legitimate chance of winning the European Tour’s order of merit.
Robert Rock made bogey at the last and finished third at 10-under par. Ian Poulter’s final round of 70 earned him a tie for sixth. Poulter said he was “devastated” and “gutted” after a double bogey at the 13th denied him a legitimate shot at victory.
Padraig Harrington, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, showed his competitive juices still flow freely with a four-under 67 for a share of ninth. Lee Westwood, who began his challenge with an outstanding 62 in the first round, tied 19th at five-under par.