Ian Poulter ready to 'batten down hatches' in Scottish Open title bid
Englishman braced for ‘horrific weather’ at The Renaissance Club on Saturday
Half the field in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open may have got lucky with the weather on Thursday, but no-one is escaping it this time.
"I’m not thinking anything about Saturday bar bringing an umbrella and a pair of waterproofs," said Ian Poulter of the impending deluge heading for The Renaissance Club in East Lothian.
At the halfway stage in the $7 million Rolex Series event, Australian Lucas Herbert leads on 11-under-par, one ahead of Robert Rock, with Poulter and Lee Westwood both on nine-under as the St George's Cross sits prominently on the leaderboard.
Poulter, who led in this event heading into the final round at Dundonald Links in 2017 before slipping out of contention with a closing 74, set up a chance to make amends for that disappointment by adding a 66 to his opening 67. He's not getting ahead of himself, though.
“I’m not confident at all, to be honest," said Europe's Ryder Cup talisman. "The weather forecast looks horrific. I don’t know what to expect. 20mph winds and a couple of inches of rain. You can be blown off the course easily, but we’re at the right end of the leaderboard to try and batten down the hatches, dig in deep and hold strong as much as you possibly can."
The 44-year-old, who is bidding for a 13th European Tour win but first on the circuit since 2012, lives in Florida but joined former US Open champion Graeme McDowell in heading across the Atlantic in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic to support both this event and also next week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
"It's nice to be in contention and good to come back, play and support the Tour," he said. “What we have gone through, what the European Tour have been through as a business, it’s difficult.
“You realise the European Tour need a bit of support and you want to come back and play golf. It’s been a hard decision for a lot of guys who have been torn. Guys want to get off to a fast start over there (in the US) and I want to as well.
"But I’ve always tried to play as many as I can over here, while realising it always difficult to only play a few events over there when you have good young golfers playing 28 events a year and you are only playing 16. I’ll do two tours as much as I can and support until I can’t do it. I’ll try my best.”
Few players in the game love playing in front of crowd more than Poulter. It had been planned for 650 spectators to be on site for each of the last two days, but that was scrapped last Friday after corornavirus restrictions were tightened in Scotland.
"I love sport and it just doesn't feel the same at the moment as we can't get people together," said Poulter, speaking through a mask in a socially-distanced mixed zone. "The sooner we can do that the better it is for all sports. We can get the real buzz. We're playing golf with no adrenaline and that's difficult."
On a day when Westwood, the overnight leader after an opening 62, started with a birdie before dropping three shots in the next six holes but recovered to retain a lofty position in his bid to repeat a 1998 title triumph at Loch Lomond, Herbert moved to the head of affairs with a 65 that contained seven birdies, including four on the spin from the 11th.
Herbert recorded his breakthrough win on the European circuit with victory in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in January, but the 24-year-old was at a low ebb when he played in this event last summer. "I started questioning whether this was what I wanted to do," he admitted in a blog for the European Tour in April.
He's got a spring his step now, though, as he bids to join fellow Australians Graham Marsh, Craig Parry, Peter O'Malley and Wayne Riley on the Scottish Open roll of honour. "I'm pretty happy," said Herbet of being out in front. "To be honest, I turned up here on Wednesday and hit it all over the place.
"Sort of not really expecting too much the last few days, but it's kind of all come together nicely. My iron play has been great, which has taken the pressure off, and I haven't had to get it up and down from ball washers to try and save pars."
In his first European Tour appearance for nearly three years, Craig Lee led eight Scots from a 15-strong starting contingent into the weekend. The 43-year-old sits on six-under, one ahead of Grant Forrest (66) and Scott Jamieson (73).
Forrest, who lives the closest to The Renaissance Club among the players in this week's field, facing just a 15-minute commute from Haddington, leapt up the leaderboard on the back of an effort that contained two eagles.
It was just the response he'd been looking for after failing to capitalise on starting the event with three straight birdies on Thursday as he opened with a disappointing 71.
"The mental side is something I'm working really hard on," said the former Scottish Amateur champion of flushing that out of his system with a bogey-free second circuit. "I feel as if I have made a lot of progress on that part of my game. It's about trying to put the bad shots and bad rounds behind me quicker."
Marc Warren, Connor Syme and debutant Ewen Ferguson all progressed on three-under, while top-ranked Scot Bob MacIntyre made another cut with his back against the wall, repairing the damage of an opening 74 with a 67 to sit on one-under along with Calum Hill.
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