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Paul Williams' tips for the 2011 Barclays Scottish Open
The annual warm-up event to The Open has, once again, managed to attract a field of top quality players who will battle for the £500,000 first prize at the beautiful Castle Stuart Golf Links. Unlike the previous venue Loch Lomond, Castle Stuart is a links course that will provide a more relevant test ahead of the demands of Royal St George's next week. 5 of the World's top 10 golfers are in attendance, including numbers 1 & 2 Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, as well as Phil Mickelson and household names such as Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Justin Rose.
The Castle Stuart course is new to the Tour and promises to be an aesthetical delight. Mark Parsinen, who brought us the equally impressive Kingsbarns course which forms part of the Alfred Dunhill Links tournament each year, finished the course in 2009 and for the most part this will be the first time the players will have played here. On the Southern shores of the Moray Firth between Inverness and Nairn, the 7,050 par 72 layout will provide a proper links test ahead of The Open, however with extremely generous fairways and greens softened by rain from Tuesday onwards, the only real defence will be the breeze.
For me, the longer players will relish this course as there's so little trouble off the tee (in relative terms) that it will likely become a question of who can hit it furthest and get their wedges closest. Let's not forget though that this is still a links course and imagination, strategy and a strong short game will still be required around the greens for those who fail to find the dancefloor.
Some interesting Scottish Open facts to consider:
- No player has ever successfully defended their Scottish Open title (Edoardo Molinari won last year)
- Despite the prevalence of Americans taking part this week in preparation for The Open, only Phil Mickelson (2007) has finished inside the top 4 in the last 7 years.
- Nobody over 40 has won the Scottish Open in the last 10 years
- Winners have been in good recent form: Molinari had missed just one cut from 16 attempts prior to his win last year; Kaymer (2009) won the previous week prior to making it back to back wins; McDowell (2008), Havret (2007) and Clark (2005) had all finished inside the top 3 in their previous event; 2006 winner Johan Edfors had won twice in the season before sealing a hat-trick in Scotland.
So, for me, the winner is a young(ish) non-American who is in good recent form. My tips then are as follows:
Ryder Cup winner Fisher has been having a largely quiet season so far having only accumulated enough Euros to see him into the top 40 in the Race to Dubai, however his top 10 finish in Munich on his last European Tour start gets him the nod here as he improved day after day and looks ready for a big week here on a track that he'll really enjoy. Fisher's sometimes wayward drives won't be punished here leaving him to maximise his scoring opportunities with his excellent ironplay.
Links golf holds no fear for Fisher as his 2007 win in the KLM Open and playoff defeat in the 2008 Alfred Dunhill Link demonstrates. However perhaps most notably he led the 2009 Open at Turnberry by 3 shots during Saturday before a final round 75 taught him an important lesson.
Whilst Donald, Westwood and Mickelson are sure to get most of the media attention, for me it will be someone like Fisher who is most likely to go for the win here. He's finished 8th in this event for the past 2 years and I'm expecting him to push on this week and contend for his 5th European Tour title. RESULT: T42
Following Thomas Levet's emotional victory in France last week, it would be fitting to pick a Scot to do well here - however I'm more interested in the chances of this young, talented Welshman. Donaldson's record of 12 cuts made from 12 attempts this season is an impressive display of consistency, as is 3 top 10s from his last 5 starts plus a creditable 21st in France on a course which didn't suit his powerful driving game. Finishes of 5th at the KLM Open in 2009 and 8th at the Dunhill Links in 2008 are both noteworthy and I'll expect him to continue his fine form into this week with a prominent performance here knowing that a top-5 finish could book him a last-minute place at Royal St George's. RESULT: T10
Now Dyson isn't a big hitter by anyone's standard, however he is one of the best players of links golf around and one who simply cannot be ignored this week. Two wins at the KLM Open before it moved away from Kennemer plus the 2009 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship underline this fact, as do further top 10s over Scottish links courses in 2010 and 2005 plus a hugely impressive 12 place finish at Whistling Straits last year on a course nearly 500 yards longer than this.
The 33 year old has 4 top 10s in his last 11 starts, including 2 in his last 5, and having been spared a tough weekend in France by missing the cut (he was struggling with a minor back problem), he'll arrive here fresher than most on a course and setup which he'll absolutely adore. Dyson will also be keen to grab one of the remaining Open Championship qualifying positions with a top-5 finish having missed out on international qualifying, so we should expect a prominent performance here. RESULT: T25
I tipped Havret last week and, was it not for 3 bad holes on Sunday, we'd have enjoyed a healthy each way payout - so I'm not ready to throw the towel in just yet! The triple-bogey on Havret's 72nd hole has helped keep his price healthy and I still think he can build on the 3 strong top 7 finishes he's already put in this season. As a previous winner of this event in 2007, Havret will have fond memories of Scotland - plus his ability to play links-style courses isn't in doubt after his runners-up finish to Graeme McDowell at Pebble Beach last year. RESULT: M/C
For my final selection I'm taking a punt on 24 year-old Englishman John Parry whose near-faultless 7-under weekend in Munich really caught my eye. After a cracking rookie season which saw Parry capture his first European Tour title in Paris, this year has been pretty disappointing with just 2 top 15 finishes. However his positive performance in Germany coupled with a weekend off in France (he bogeyed his 36th hole to miss the shot by 1) is encouragement enough for me, plus the memory of his 3rd place finish at last year's Alfred Dunhill Links and the lure of a first Major start at Sandwich could well spur him onto greater things this week at a long, long price. RESULT: T62
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 21:30BST 5.7.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.