Scottish Open: Robert Rock retains lead over Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter
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By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 03/10/20 7:30pm
Tommy Fleetwood defied the "relentless" rain to move within two shots of leader Robert Rock after a third day of dismal weather at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
The heavens opened early on Saturday morning and did not relent throughout the day, with a saturated Rock holing out for par in near darkness shortly after 6:15pm as he signed for a commendable one-over 72 which was enough to earn him the 54-hole lead on nine under par - two clear of Ryder Cup stars Fleetwood and Ian Poulter.
Fleetwood ensured a place in Sunday's final pairing with the English veteran, firing a five-birdie 69 which lifted him 11 places up the leaderboard as many contenders struggled to get to grips - literally at times - with the brutal conditions at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick.
But Rock will begin the final round with a two-stroke advantage after keeping calm and composed in the most testing of environments, picking up an early birdie at the third before grinding out the pars to stay either out in front or tied for the lead with Poulter as he reached the turn.
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Rock dropped only his second shot of the tournament after a wayward drive at the 11th, where his route to the green was blocked out, and the 43-year-old blotted his card again two holes later, but steadied himself with another run of pars.
His patience was tested on the penultimate hole when he complained the light was not good enough for him to see the flag, 203 yards from the tee, but he managed to negotiate 17 and 18 in pars before making a hasty exit without speaking to media, fuelling rumours he was unhappy about being forced to finish in fading light.
Fleetwood, however, was in buoyant mood as he wrung out his drenched sweater after returning only the ninth sub-70 score of the round, bouncing back from a three-putt bogey at 13 with a cracking tee-shot to six feet to set up birdie at 14 and finishing off with a 20-foot putt for a three at the last.
"I loved every minute of it," Fleetwood told Sky Sports Golf, stressing the value of embracing the conditions rather than being fearful of them. "There was a period early doors where it was fine. It was playable and I think as the rain got worse, obviously you get wetter and the day gets a bit longer.
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"But when we sort of got to the edge of the golf course and the wind picked up, and the rain, was the worst it's been all day. There was a time when it was playable and doable, as people were showing with scores and then it got very, very brutal.
"It was pretty relentless. Normally you get maybe a downpour, but the rain didn't stop for half a second and just got worse and progressively worse and windy throughout day. It was pretty tough towards the end. The golf shots I was hitting, you have to give yourself a pat on the back sometimes.
"I'm really, really happy with how I hit the shots coming in, and it was a really good to finish the day. To shoot two under out there, I just felt like I won the battle against the golf course."
Fleetwood shares second with Marcus Kinhult, Wade Ormsby and Poulter, who was tied at the top with Rock after an outward 34 until the elements got the better of him on the back nine, dropping three shots in four holes from the 12th and leaking another at the last to card a 73.
"I really lost count of what I was scoring out there around that back nine," said Poulter. "I had no idea. I couldn't write numbers on the scorecard. I couldn't keep my hands dry. But I'm in contention, so that's a good thing, right? Rocky has obviously shot an incredible round of golf in those conditions, but we're in touching distance. That's all I can ask for."
The three best scores of the day all came from early starters, with 2014 Ryder Cup star Victor Dubuisson, Adri Arnaus and Gavin Green all firing 67s to propel themselves 47 places up the leaderboard and into a share of sixth with Andy Sullivan (69) on five under.
Home favourite Robert MacIntyre was 23rd when he signed for a 68 to close on four under, and a few hours later he was inside the top 10 and on the same score as 11 others, including Eddie Pepperell, Lee Westwood and last week's Irish Open runner-up, Aaron Rai.