As Tiger Woods brought back memories of his 2006 Open win by plotting his way around Hoylake without the use of a driver, Shane Lowry was plotting his own plan for Claret Jug glory with his first bogey-free round for six months.
The Clara man fired three birdies in his first four holes and then eagled the par-five 12th en route to an immaculate 66 that gave him a share of fourth place in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, six shots behind winner Justin Rose.
Lowry earned €148,039 to move up to 17th in the Race to Dubai with €754,411 as Rory McIlroy closed with a 67 to share 14th on a low scoring day at Royal Aberdeen.
With defending champion Phil Mickelson’s 65 boosting him to 11th ahead of his Open Championship defence and Pádraig Harrington carding seven birdies in a 67 to move up 20 spots to tied 27th, there were plenty of positives for the Hoylake bound brigade.
Few were as happy as Rose, who shot a 65 to win by two strokes from Kristoffer Broberg, who clinched his place at Royal Liverpool alongside England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Scotland’s Scott Jamieson.
McIlroy’s title hopes were undone on Friday when he followed his opening 64 with a ragged 78.
But while his Sunday 67 actually saw him fall one spot in the leaderboard, he was positive about his chances of challenging for his third major in Liverpool.
“It was good I guess,” he said. “I think 67 is actually pretty average out there today. The course is playing very, very easy. I mean, 67, and I've actually moved down one spot on the leaderboard. So it's not like par out there was probably around 68, 67.
“I played okay and I’m looking forward to getting to Hoylake and getting ready there. I see enough good signs in my game to give me some confidence going into next week.”
McIlroy knows he cannot afford to put together just three good rounds at Hoylake. There are four questions on the exam and they are all obligatory.
“Yeah, I am [in good form], Three good rounds here, if I can just string a fourth round in there, it would be great, and obviously going into next week, that's what I'm going to try and do, try and just play four solid rounds of golf and see where that leaves me. But feel like I'm playing well enough to contend.
“I need to play the par fives better for sure. There's four par fives at Hoylake and they are very reachable, very scoreable and that's where you make your score there. I only played the par fives this week in two-under par which isn't good enough. So need to try and take care of those a bit better next week to have a chance.
“Hoylake is very fair. It's very as long as you avoid the bunkers off the tee, the greens are quite flat and forgiving. There's not many big runoffs or huge slopes on the greens. So, yeah, I feel with the way I'm hitting the ball, I feel most courses are sort of suiting me at the minute.
“I’m looking forward to getting down there and playing a couple more rounds and hopefully be ready for next Thursday.
“[This week] has been fantastic. To play some links golf on a real, true links test has been fantastic. I'm definitely glad that I came and even though it's not the result that I wanted, it's been a great exercise in terms of preparation for next week.”
While McIlroy got competitive practice in Scotland, Woods played nine holes at a green but firmish Hoylake on his arrival on Saturday and 18 holes in a 25 mph northwest wind yesterday with his Excel Sports Management stablemate Matt Kuchar.
Kuchar used his driver liberally and confessed that the rough “got me good” a few times. But Woods brought back memories of his 2006 Open win — when he hit his driver just once in 72 holes — by laying up short of all the trouble off the tee with irons and fairway woods.
He missed some shots but in general he looked far shaper than he did when missing the cut by four shots at Congressional on his comeback after a three month layoff after undergoing back surgery on March 31.
“Impressive,” Kuchar said when asked for his impressions of Woods. “He’s recovering well. His game is still impressive.”
Grinning, the American added: “We had a little match going down the last and he stuffed one in close from 160 to beat me. That was a bit of a bummer but it was more like the Tiger we are used to seeing.”
Asked about Woods’ strategy off the tee, Kuchar said: “We play a different game off the tee. Driving accuracy is a strength of mine but the strategy is to avoid the pot bunkers off the tee and it will take me a few more rounds to get used to it.”
Gareth Maybin (72) was tied 52nd on one over with Hoylake-bound Michael Hoey (72) and Darren Clarke (74) tied for 59th on two over.
Kevin Phelan (71) and Damien McGrane (72) share 72nd on five over.