‘Invaluable’ Irish Open experience stands to Scottish champ Rai

Fatiha Betscher
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‘Invaluable’ Irish Open experience stands to Scottish champ Rai

Aaron Rai. Getty Images

‘Invaluable!’

This was Aaron Rai’s response when asked how valuable was the experience of finishing runner-up in last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to capturing the ASI Scottish Open.

Rai, 25, secured a first Rolex Series victory and a second European Tour title of his career after both he and fellow Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood found themselves in a play-off on the Renaissance course to the east of Edinburgh.

Rai was on the practice range following a final round 64 for an 11-under par tally when Fleetwood brilliantly birdied the last in a score of 67.

It was back to the 18th for the duo again with Fleetwood in prime position after Rai had moments earlier found a fairway bunker down the left side of the fairway.

Rai, winner of the 2018 Hong Kong Open, managed to get his second to just short of the green from where he superbly chipped to some four feet.

Fleetwood was on in two but then left his third around three feet from the flagstick.

Rai went ahead and confidently knocked-in his par putt with the match seemingly certain to head to a second play-off before the unthinkable happened with Fleetwood, a winner of five European Tour events and a European Team hero at the 2018 Ryder Cup, failing to even hit the hole with his par effort.

Rai, like most gathered around the 18th, stood there gob-smacked.

A week earlier, it was Rai who looked to win at Galgorm Castle but it was not to be with the softly-spoken Englishman finishing runner-up to American John Catlin, who like Rai had also signed off for a last day 64.

So, a week after being the tournament bridesmaid in Ireland, Rai was the proud victory groom in Scotland.

“Last week was invaluable,” he said.

“It was the first time I had been in that situation for a while, and it was nice to get a feel for myself again in that situation. I think even today, it wasn’t really in my mind for the first, probably six or seven holes, and then I realised that we were getting quite close to the leaders at around that point.

“I think when something is so fresh with it happening last week, a lot of kind of memories come to mind and a lot of good things came to mind last week.

“I would probably go so far as to say without last week, this week wouldn’t have happened.”

Rai’s victory has moved him inside the top-10 in the Race to Dubai and with the top-100 in the world rankings.

“The Race to Dubai wasn’t something I was thinking of, or certainly winning it wasn’t something I was thinking of before this week,” he said.

“I think after a week like this, it’s important for it to kind of sail in and me to enjoy it and kind of reset things going forwards.

“But to answer your question, it would be great to continue to compete and to continue to play well, most importantly, and I think that will take care of itself. I think an Order of Merit is different this year with COVID, but you’ve got to perform well over the course of a year.

“So, any time you’re up there in The Race to Dubai, whether it’s winning it, whether it’s in the top three, top five, it shows a great degree of consistency with some really top results, as well. So still a long way to go in the season, but it’s a great spot to be in.”

 

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