Retief Goosen served notice that he remains a serious contender in the upper echelons of world golf with a stunning 63 to claim the halfway lead at the Scottish Open on Friday.
The South African’s eight-under-par round was within a shot of his own course record at Loch Lomond and left him two shots clear of a chasing pack headed by revitalized Australian Adam Scott, who impressed watching girlfriend Ana Ivanovic by adding a 67 to his opening 66.
A shot further back, at eight under, were Australian Marcus Fraser (66) and Germany’s Martin Kaymer (65), although arguably the performance of the day came from Lee Westwood.
The Englishman had felt so ill on Thursday with a chest infection that he considered withdrawing. But he bounced back from an opening 73 with a 66 to comfortably make the weekend cut at three under for the tournament.
Goosen’s display was remarkable given that his round had started with him topping a three-wood that struggled to make it 180 yards up the fairway.
“My playing partners [Geoff Ogilvy and Oliver Wilson] kept quiet but I’m sure they were laughing,” Goosen acknowledged with a rueful smile. “When I hit a good one on 12 [their 3rd hole], I told them I’d had a much better lie on the tee!”
Despite the inauspicious start, Goosen managed to salvage a par on his first hole by sinking a 20-footer and he had reached three under by the turn.
That set the stage for the 2001 and 2004 US Open champion to charge home in 31 strokes, courtesy of a second successive eagle at the long 3rd hole and four birdies, the only blemish coming at the short 5th, where he missed both the green and his par putt.
Like Ernie Els, who registered a second 69 to leave him seven shots behind the pace set by his compatriot, Goosen, who turned 40 in February, has had to contend with questions about his appetite for the game of late. But he insists that he is a long way from being finished.
“You go through patches and nobody knows why,” he said. “Otherwise we’d all be No. 1. My putting is not as consistent as it used to be but today they all went in, which is nice.”
A third place finish at the recent Munich International Open also encouraged Goosen to believe he can contend at next week’s Open Championship at Turnberry.
Scott’s 67 came on the back of an opening 66 and prompted him to declare the year-long slump that has coincided with turmoil in his private life to be over.
But for a double bogey on the short 5th, where his ball came to rest against a stone in the greenside bunker and he ended up in deep rough on the opposite side of the putting surface, it could have been even better for the 28-year-old.
The damage inflicted at the 5th was rectified by three birdies in the following four holes and Scott admitted his relief at feeling his confidence return after what has been, for him, an unprecedented string of missed cuts.
“It feels good the way my game is, the ball striking is there again and I’m just enjoying being able to see some shots and then hit them,” he said. “Hitting this many greens, it is hard to have a bad score. So it has been like going from one extreme to another for me.”
“So, is it the blossoming romance with tennis star Ivanovic that has got Scott firing again? “I don’t how to answer that,” he said. “But I do think that it is nice that all areas of my life are in a good place right now.”