By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 12/07/19 8:52pm
Henrik Stenson will look to launch his bid for a second Open title on the back of a victory as he remained bogey-free and firmly in contention at the halfway stage of a low-scoring ASI Scottish Open.
The Renaissance Club’s debut in hosting the event produced a remarkable number of rounds in the mid-60s, and even Rory McIlroy hinted that he was slightly surprised to be six strokes off the pace going into the weekend despite carding back-to-back 67s.
The in-form Bernd Wiesberger blitzed the North Berwick layout for 11 birdies, including one on each of his final five holes as a 61 propelled him into a share of the lead on 14 under with Erik Van Rooyen and Lee Slattery – the only player in the leading trio yet to qualify for The 148th Open next week.
Stenson cruised round in 65 for the second day running to lie two shots back, with Justin Thomas one further adrift after a 64, although Thomas’ Ryder Cup team-mate Rickie Fowler will have the weekend off after he bogeyed his final hole to slip to four under – one too many to avoid missing the cut.
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Wiesberger’s sensational finish completed the best round of his European Tour career as he continues his impressive comeback from the wrist injury that sidelined him for seven months last year.
The Austrian, winner of the Made In Denmark in May and runner-up to Jon Rahm at Lahinch last week, started at the 10th and, after birdies at 10 and 12, he bogeyed the 13th for the second time this week before responding with four birdies over the next six holes and five in a row to finish.
“It’s been tough the last year, coming off injury,” he said. “It’s been hard but winning in Denmark was a big boost to me and I’m really enjoying my time out on the golf course again. Maybe I take it not as seriously as I’ve done before and let it go and that really helped me. Just feeding off rounds like this today.”
Slattery was the first player to get into the clubhouse on 14 under when he returned a bogey-free 64 with seven birdies, including three straight to start the back-nine, while Van Rooyen carded eight birdies against just one blemish in his classy 64.
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Overnight leader Nino Bertasio slipped to joint-fourth after adding a 67 to his opening 63, and he was later joined on 12 under by 2016 Open champion Stenson, who cruised to the turn in 31 and picked up further shots at the 13th and 16th to “copy and paste” his first-round effort.
“Same as yesterday, six birdies and no bogeys, so that’s always pleasing when you play 36 holes without dropping a shot,” said the Swede. “We’re obviously playing a fairly easy golf course in easy conditions, so it will be a birdie-fest out there as the scoring will tell you.
“So I’m just trying to keep up with the guys at the top of the leaderboard, and so far I’m pleased with the way I’ve played. A lot of good tee shots, a lot of good approaches and solid putting on the greens, even though I let one or two good chances slip by here on the back nine, I’m still pleased where I’m positioned after two rounds.”
Stenson also insisted he would welcome more challenging conditions over the weekend, adding: “I want the wind to come up a little bit, because I see this as a good prep leading into next week. Even though we’re playing for a very strong title and lots of points here this week, it is a good week to tune up your game.
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“In order to do so, I would have liked to see a little tougher test than we’ve had these first two days, but weather in Scotland can always change pretty quickly, as you know, so we’ll see what the weekend brings us.”
Thomas enjoyed a strong start with five birdies in a front-nine 30 and, after his lone blemish at the 11th, the American birdied 14, 16 and 17 in a 64 that lifted him to 11 under and one ahead of Ian Poulter (67), Matt Fitzpatrick (65) and defending champion Brandon Stone (64).