Rickie Fowler set his sights on a first major title after producing his second brilliant finish of the season to win the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Fowler fell two shots off the lead when he bogeyed the 14th hole of the final round at Gullane, but responded with birdies at the 15th, 16th and 18th to finish 12 under par and snatch victory from Ryder Cup team-mate Matt Kuchar.
That brought back memories of Fowler’s victory in the Players Championship at Sawgrass in May, when he played the last six holes in six under, taking a tournament-record 11 shots to finish birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie.
Fowler, who finished in the top five of all four majors last year, then defeated Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia in a play-off, just days after he and Ian Poulter were voted the most overrated players by their peers in an anonymous survey conducted by Sports Illustrated.
The 26-year-old will now hope to emulate the last American to win the Scottish Open in 2013, Phil Mickelson tasting victory at Castle Stuart before going on to win the Open at Muirfield, just a mile down the road from Gullane.
“Phil made sure I was well aware of what he did two years ago when I saw him this morning,” Fowler said.
“I’ve got the first leg done and although it will be difficult to better my Open finish last year being runner-up with Sergio (Garcia), I like my chances.”
Kuchar had set the clubhouse target on 11 under, finally ending the hopes of Scotland’s Marc Warren who had finished 10 under par four hours earlier after a superb 64.
Fowler faced an uphill task after driving into a fairway bunker cost him a shot on the 14th, but holed from nine feet on the next, two-putted the par-five 16th and then hit a superb approach from 109 yards to two feet on the last.
That left France’s Raphael Jacquelin needing to hole his second shot to the 18th to force a play-off and his approach span back to within inches of the hole, but Fowler was not to be denied.
“It’s pretty special,” Fowler added. “This is a big win.
“I had a couple of missed cuts after winning the Players, which was disappointing, so it feels good to get back on form. I could definitely get used to winning a little more often.
“Jordan (Spieth) has been playing some incredible golf and it’s fun to see and inspirational too.
“I have a lot of work to do but this is a step in the right direction and down the road there could be some good talk about Jordan, Rory (McIlroy) and me.
“I had to dig deep. I was a little bummed to drop a shot on 14, but knew I had some birdie holes coming in. With a par-4, par-5, par-3 and par-4 to finish, it was a very similar set up to Sawgrass.
“I tried to make birdies at all four, made some good swings and really didn’t miss a shot. I can’t say I didn’t make a mistake all week and there are a few things we can tighten up, but I am looking forward to getting back to St Andrews, the ‘Home of Golf’, and getting into contention.”
Jacquelin had the consolation of securing a place in the Open with his share of second place, with overnight leader Daniel Brooks – who carded a closing 73 – and Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg claiming the other two spots.
“I played great and I’m very happy with my game,” said Jacquelin, who had missed five straight cuts before last week’s French Open. “The way I played the last three months was not very good so I’m very pleased with the second place, even if I was hoping to win the trophy.
“I tried my best and did pretty good at the end. I tried to hole that last shot. It was almost in. I gave everything.”
Brooks had been in even worse form than Jacquelin this season, missing the cut in 13 consecutive events before finishing 20th in Paris last week.
“Overall it’s been a great week, I’ve played some lovely golf,” the world No 528 said.
“Not so much at the weekend but I’ve scrambled like you would not believe over the last two days. To get the final spot for the Open, I’m over the moon.
“It’s been tough the last few months playing so bad. But the last few weeks have been great.”
Warren had hoped it would be third time lucky after blowing a three-shot lead with four holes to play in this event in 2012 and finishing third last year, but eventually saw his total overtaken.
Hull’s Richard Finch earned €56,950 for a tie for 17th place, a welcome lift in a difficult season where his previous best cheque had been for €7,490.
He shot 72 68 over the weekend, going out in one-under 34 on Saturday with two birdies and a bogey, but coming home in 38 with a double bogey six at the 11th an ugly blemish.
He mirrored Saturday’s outward run yesterday, but this time had a back nine of eight pars and one birdie.
Sheffield’s Matthew Fitzpatrick struggled to a birdie-less 78 on Saturday which saw four bogeys and two double bogeys on his card. Yesterday he fared much better with a 70, four birdies overhauling two bogeys with interest only for him to take double bogey at the last.