Brandon Stone of South Africa will attempt to defend the Scottish Open this weekend. Photo: EPA/Neville Hopwood

DIRLETON – Brandon Stone has targeted a return to form as he bids to become the first player to successfully defend the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club which starts on Thursday.

Stone shot a remarkable round of 60 to break the course record at Gullane Golf Club on the final day last year to ease to a four-stroke victory over England’s Eddie Pepperell.

The South African also broke the record tournament score as a result – posting a 20-under-par 260 – and Stone is relishing his return to East Lothian to defend his third European Tour title and is aiming to set another achievement in the 37th edition of the event.

“It’s great, I got in on Monday quite late,” Stone said. “I actually took my dad, who wasn’t here last year, to Gullane and stood on the 18th green and tried to recreate the putt. So it was quite cool taking a trip down memory lane.

“The prospect of coming back to Gullane, the prospect of being defending champion and just being back in North Berwick is lovely.”

The 26-year-old has struggled since the turn of the year, making just four cuts in 11 events.

South Africa's Brandon Stone. Photo: Michael Sherman (ANA)

However, he produced one of his best performances of the season at last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to finish in a tie for 34th, which would have been even better if it was not for a final round 73.

“I think this month or so is probably the highlight of my season with regards to events,” he said. “Obviously Ireland, Scotland and then The Open next week is fantastic. I’ve developed a strong love for links golf which I never had as a junior or amateur. It’s taken me the better part of a decade to develop a manner of conducting myself and playing this true art form that is links golf.

“The season has been a struggle so far this year. We’ve been making a few drastic changes off the course. I moved to London with my wife. 

“We’ve been working very hard physically to get me into a more athletic, physical state so I can compete in a lot more tournaments in a row.

“The changes we did make, we did sacrifice the first six months. We knew it would take up until now to start seeing some of that hard work pay dividends.

“Last week I played some phenomenal golf. I struggled with my last nine on Sunday but other than that, I really, really did play nicely. The game feels like it’s come together quite nicely, much like it did last year. So I’m hoping to try and replicate that result.”

Stone praised the setup at The Renaissance Club and believes it will be a valuable experience before tackling Royal Portrush at The Open Championship next week.

“It’s definitely not boring. The greens are quite severe. A lot of tricky sloping. It should prove to be a true test,” the South African added.

“If the wind picks up like it might, that typical Scottish links breeze, be a little bit more penal for the guys that are hitting it a bit more wayward, but the course is in fantastic condition, it really is.

“It’s going to be a true test and you’ll have to play great golf and it’s going to be a great test before next week at Royal Portrush for The Open.”  

African News Agency (ANA)