INVERNESS, Scotland (AP) — Luke Donald enjoyed the perfect warmup for next week’s British Open with a flawless 9-under 63 to win the rain-shortened Scottish Open by four strokes, his first victory since becoming the world’s top-ranked player in May.
The 33-year-old Englishman started the third and final round a shot behind a trio of joint leaders but rolled in nine birdies in a majestic bogey-free display at Castle Stuart.
With only a light wind leaving the links course defenseless, Donald romped home with a winning total of 19 under, ahead of Sweden’s Fredrik Andersson Hed (62).
His eighth professional title – and third this year – didn’t just cement his top ranking, which he secured for the first time nearly two months ago by beating compatriot Lee Westwood in a playoff for the PGA Championship on his last appearance in Europe.
It also provided the ideal tonic ahead of the British Open at Royal St. George’s starting Thursday, where he’ll attempt to land his first major.
“I felt good out there, very comfortable, very in control. That’s a good sign for next week,” said Donald, who is half Scottish and wore Tartan trousers for the final day.
“There’s always a little added pressure when you’re No. 1 but hopefully I’ve proved I can handle that. It was a pretty strong field this week and the best way to prepare.”
Andersson Hed, ranked No. 128, began the third round tied for 44th at 5 under, but came from nowhere to overhaul a host of forlorn chasers behind Donald. His 10-under 62 was the lowest score of a wet week in Inverness, when Saturday’s play was completely washed out – reducing the tournament to 54 holes.
“I had gone 48 hours since I played on the golf course. I’d like to stay here a bit longer,” Andersson Hed said.
British Open hopefuls Scott Jamieson of Scotland and Mark Tullo of Chile finished in a seven-way tie for third. However, it was the No. 203-ranked Jamieson who sank a birdie at the last hole to secure the available qualifying spot for the year’s third major – by virtue of having a higher ranking than Tullo by 29 places.
“It was the first putt I had all day that I was really confident on my read, and it just reached the hole,” said Jamieson, who will play at his first major. “It’s not registered yet, to be honest.”
Colin Montgomerie had also been looking to qualify for his home major for the 22nd straight year but could only card a 70 to finish in a tie for 31st at 10 under.
The former Europe Ryder Cup captain briefly shared the lead in the final round after a birdie at the sixth, but dropped four shots at the start of the back nine to shatter his hopes.
No player has ever won the Scottish Open and gone on to win the British Open the following week, but Donald – a model of consistency this year – looks in good position to become the first.
“I only see this as a positive,” he said. “I’ll be high on confidence. I’m hitting the ball nicely and to do it on a links course is even better. I’m looking forward to bringing this game to next week.”
Donald completed his second round in overcast conditions early on Sunday with a second straight 67, giving him a good platform to make a charge for the title in his first Scottish Open since 2007.
He had to hit the ground running in the final round, with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Scots Peter Whiteford and Jamieson a shot clear.
Donald did just that with a birdie on No. 3, before draining a 40-footer across the slope on the short fourth to share the lead.
Two more birdies made it four in a row and although he was briefly joined in front by Tullo, the joint leader from the first round, the relentless Donald sank a 15-footer to pick up another birdie on No. 9. He then benefited from a free drop out of a waterlogged bunker on the 10th fairway to make a sensational up-and-down.
That took him two strokes ahead and he closed with three birdies over the last four holes, recording three straight rounds in the 60s.
“It’s nice to get another victory. I can get used to this,” Donald said.
Second-ranked Lee Westwood shot a closing 68 and was tied for 14th at 12 under, a stroke behind eighth-ranked Matt Kuchar from the United States (67). Fellow American Phil Mickelson, ranked No. 6, had a 69 and finished at 7 under.