The 'Fifth Major' in the eyes of most European Tour players comes hot on the heels of a victorious long weekend at Celtic Manor for a number of this week's participants - in fact the entry list is about as strong as it gets this side of the pond so we're in for a real treat! Of Monty's magnificent dozen, 9 are playing in Scotland plus the captain himself - the big question is whether hangovers will be cleared sufficiently for any of the European heroes to dominate this week's...
The Alfred Dunhill Links is a pro-am format played on 3 courses - Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and St Andrews - over the first 3 days, then the final round is professionals only around the Old Course with some trickier pin positions. With fairly good conditions expected (for October in Scotland by any rate!), St Andrews is likely to play the easiest of the 3 so well worth bearing in mind the draw if you're looking for trading opportunities or first round leader bets. With over 160 entrants to wade through, it's important to get down to a manageable shortlist. I've done this by looking at the following statistics:
1. With the surprising exception of Lee Westwood in 2003, every other winner of this tournament had at least 3 top 10s in the season to date before winning. Quite simply, you need to be showing some strong season-long form to win around here. So, by removing anyone without 3 or more top 10s so far, we get the list down to just 48 players - wave goodbye to Monty at this stage!
2. Other than Stephen Gallacher in 2004, everyone else was already a winner on the European Tour. Removing all Tour maidens at this point gets us to 37 players on the shortlist.
3. All of the previous winners had at least 1 top 10 in their last 6 starts - removing anyone without this to their name gets us to the following 24 shortlisted players: McIlroy, Westwood, Kaymer, Goosen, Els, Fisher, McDowell, Harrington, Hanson, both Molinaris, Dyson, McGrane, Rumford, Kjeldsen, Derksen, Edfors, Jacquelin, Dredge, Lawrie, Morrison, Larrazabel & Andersson Hed. For me, the winner's in there somewhere!
So, to narrow it down further, I've used the predictor and tournament history for the Alfred Dunhill Links, KLM Open up to 2009, plus a cursory look at this year's Open, US Open and US PGA which were all played on links-type courses. Clearly there are a number of Ryder Cup players in that shortlist and it's questionable whether they'll be truly up for this - another factor which makes this all the more intriguing! Here's my 10 points:
Having watched the (long) weekend's festivities from the comfort of his Wentworth armchair, the big South African will be one of the freshest players at the top of the betting. If you can excuse this year's missed cut, his record at The Open has been outstanding in recent times with form of 8/7/4/3 which bodes well for this type of tournament. This is a regular fixture in Els' schedule and recent finishes of 6th in 2008 and 5th in 2007 are also positive. Add to that a 3rd place finish at Pebble Beach earlier this term, plus a top 20 at Whistling Straits, you begin to see that he can play links golf!
His 7th place finish at the East Lake capped a fine season in the States for Els, with personal back-to-back wins in March and a whole host of top 10 finishes. With most of the other contenders feeling they're more on a victory parade than a golf tournament, for me Els is the most likely to succeed here. RESULT: T22
Yes, I can hear the objections to this selection already! Truth is, the media circus is more likely to be following GMac and Rory, as well as Monty, around the course over the first 3 days which will allow Harrington to play a more natural game with infinitely less pressure than last weekend, in a format and style of course which suits him down to the ground. 2 Open Championships don't need any further explanation, however on top of that Harrington has won this event twice and if ever there was a tournament to get him back to winning ways then this is one. RESULT: T17
Having narrowly failed in his quest to secure a Ryder Cup place, Dyson understandably went off the boil before taking a well-earned break. By his own estimation, he was striking the ball as well as ever during August and I have every reason to suspect he'll continue that form in his title defence this week.
Dyson has now shown his liking for Links golf on 3 occasions - once here and twice at the KLM Open - and at a cracking price I'd expect him to go very close here. His tie for 12th at Whistling Straits was by far his most composed effort since winning this tournament 12 months ago and the motivation for him to prove his quality with so many Ryder Cuppers in attendance will be massive. RESULT: T5
My final selection is the erratic but highly talented Bradley Dredge. Finished 2nd here in 2006 and 7th last year at the KLM Open, plus was a creditable 27th at the Open Championship this year - ahead of all of 3 selections above by some distance. Having missed his last 2 cuts you could be excused for overlooking him here, however I beg to differ. He's had some cracking results in Qatar (5th), Germany (3rd) and most recently Gleneagles (7th) - in fact his Scottish form is very positive with a 12th at Loch Lomond to compliment the 2 results I've already mentioned.
If you can ignore his poor showing in Holland then you'll see some great rounds of golf over the last couple of months interspersed with the odd disaster - you get what you pay for and at 100/1 he may miss the cut, however if he can string 3 or more good rounds together then he'll be in position to pay out for a 3-figure result and, for me, I'm more than happy to invest a couple of points to find out. RESULT: T22
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:30BST 5.10.10 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
For top 20 tips for this tournament click here.