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With the dust barely starting to settle on Team Europe’s landslide Ryder Cup victory in Paris, a number of Thomas Bjorn’s victorious team will be straight back into action this week at the annual pro-am jaunt that is the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. A smattering of Jim Furyk’s team and entourage are also here in Scotland for this high-profile event and although the introduction of the Rolex Series may have relegated this a little in terms of stature, it’s still more than a decent title to win with a $5m prize fund up for grabs, plus the event is equally about the celebrity amateurs who play alongside their golfing heroes at and around the Home of Golf for 4 days.
10 of the World’s top 50 are in attendance plus a pretty solid undercard from the European Tour, however all 168 entrants will be looking to take the biggest possible share of the pot that’s on offer this week – for many of the Europeans this is very close to the make-or-break point of the season where cards can be retained, flights to Dubai booked and world ranking positions gained with decent OWGR points up for grabs this week.
The event is played over 3 courses for the first 3 days – Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and St Andrews – then the final round is contested around the Old Course with slightly trickier pin positions after 3 days of pretty generous placements to help the amateurs. Temperament is an important factor in this quirky event where rounds can take over 6 hours to complete, with some of the amateurs barely able to claim ‘hacker’ status. Long waits of half an hour or longer are common on some tees as play grinds to a halt, so those with the personality to enjoy the occasion whilst retaining focus when it’s eventually their time to play a shot are at an advantage.
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Course Overview. The Old Course at St Andrews needs little introduction as the ‘Home of Golf’ is steeped in golfing tradition dating back to the very roots of the sport some 600 years ago. The 17th Road Hole, with its notorious bunker, and the closing 18th, which features the Swilcan Bridge and the Valley of Sin, are the most famous closing holes on the planet and this rolling links is recognisable worldwide to those with just the most basic of golfing knowledge.
The 7,307 yard, par 72 has a peculiar setup of 14 par-4s and just a pair each of par-3s & par-5s and features 7 double greens with huge, fescue/bentgrass putting surfaces. The other two tracks used for a day each in this event are Carnoustie and Kingsbarns with Carnoustie tending to play the toughest of all 3 courses, however much depends on the strength of the breeze as we saw first hand at the 2010 Open Championship when a windy Friday decimated many scorecards at St Andrews – including that of Rory McIlroy who shot 80 that day to ultimately scupper his chances of what would have been his first Claret jug.
Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Tyrrell Hatton, 22/1; 2016: Tyrrell Hatton, 66/1; 2015: Thorbjorn Olesen, 200/1; 2014: Oliver Wilson, 500/1; 2013: David Howell, 125/1; 2012: Branden Grace, 50/1; 2011: Michael Hoey, 250/1; 2010: Martin Kaymer, 16/1. For a summary of winners’ odds on the European Tour for the past 8 years click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for St Andrews is here. Mostly dry conditions, save for the odd shower, will greet the players with occasional sunshine, however that will do little to boost the temperatures which will struggle to reach the mid-50s Fahrenheit. A westerly breeze averaging 15mph will present a fair challenge to the players this week.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 8 winners of this event gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
With the exception of Carnoustie, fairways are wide and greens large and easy to hit, so much of this event comes down to how players perform on and around the greens. Converting birdie chances is critical if players are going to compile a contending score and minimising bogeys from off of the green is also vital in an event where somewhere around 20-under is typically the target to be in with a sniff on Sunday afternoon.
As well as the event’s nuances that are more obvious in that a slow, pro-am event on 3 different links tracks isn’t likely to suit everyone, there are also some other important points to consider:
With generous pin positions and scoreable par 4s and 5s – particularly at Kingsbarns and St Andrews – this event, for me, is about birdie-making first and foremost. A moderate breeze may well keep a lid on scoring to a degree, however the emphasis is still likely to be about performing and scoring well on and around the dancefloors.
Incoming Form. In terms of incoming form, the winners here since 2010 have been very mixed as is reflected by odds ranging from 16/1 to 500/1 and half of the winners in that period have been 125/1 or longer pre-event. Martin Kaymer (16/1) in 2010 completed a personal hat-trick of wins here having captured the US PGA Championship and KLM Open in his two previous events. Michael Hoey (250/1) hadn’t finished inside the top 30 in his previous 10 starts, David Howell (125/1) had recorded a solitary top-10 in the previous 6 months, Oliver Wilson (500/1) had failed to make the top-30 in his previous 15 events, most of which were on the Challenge Tour, Thorbjorn Olesen (200/1) had missed 10 of his previous 14 cuts after his return from a wrist injury. Despite some good early-season form Tyrrell Hatton arrived here in 2016 with incoming efforts of MC/MC/45, however last year’s successful defence came off the back of consecutive top-8 finishes. 2012 winner Branden Grace (50/1) had shown poor recent form on the European Tour before winning here, although he did arrive fresh off the back of a low-key victory the previous week on the Sunshine Tour. A very mixed bag indeed:
Event Form. Going back to 2010, half of the winners had fairly tangible form here – in fact Kaymer, Wilson and Olesen had all finished runner-up in this event previously in their respective careers and Hatton was defending champion 12 months ago. David Howell had 4 top-8 finishes from 12 starts here prior to winning and clearly also enjoys the format. Hoey, Grace and Hatton (in 2016) on the other hand would have been very difficult to pick out simply by eye-balling their previous efforts at the Alfred Dunhill Links:
It’s interesting to note how Ryder Cup players have fared in this event when played the week afterwards, recent results as follows:
The British Masters was played immediately after the 2008 Ryder Cup (Valhalla) with Lee Westwood losing out in a play-off; Luke Donald finished 6th in the WGC Amex in 2006 which was played the week after the K Club. The overriding message I’m getting from these results is that we shouldn’t dismiss the Ryder Cup players out of hand simply because we think they’ll be too tired/hung-over, although whether the likes of Koepka or Finau from Team USA can raise their spirits so quickly remains to be seen.
My selections are as follows:
Despite winning 4 times on the European Tour in little over a year, Matt Wallace is still seemingly underrated by the bookmakers. At 59th in the OWGR and with a decent haul of ranking points up for grabs, the Hillingdon man knows that this week represents a massive opportunity to move inside the coveted top-50 for the end of the year and that will unlock access to the biggest events in golf so that he can prove to the world what he’s capable of. Missing out on the Ryder Cup will have stung, however the way that the 28 year-old dealt with the barrage of questions on Thomas Bjorn’s decision was impressive and if he can continues the sharp upward trajectory to his career that we’ve seen of late then inclusion in the 2020 team seems increasingly likely. Despite all that, with a number of both the US and European teams here in attendance, I’m sure that Matt will be keen to make his point this week and put in a contending performance.
Wins at the Open de Portugal, Indian Open, BMW International Open and most recently the Made in Denmark show a level of diversity in his game that suggests he’s far from a one-trick pony when it comes to course types that he can compete on, and I’d expect some success on a links track to follow soon enough, even though it’s not overly evident from his record save for a couple of linksy top-10s last year. That said, the Englishman was in a decent spot heading into the weekend here last year with opening rounds of -3 (St Andrews) and -5 (Carnoustie) to put him in a net 6th place at the halfway point, before a nightmare back 9 at Kingsbarns on Saturday put paid to his title aspirations. Perhaps that eventual 59th place finish has been enough to deflect attention from the bookies for this week, however it’s worth noting that he was struggling with a wrist injury this time last year and had withdrawn from the British Masters the week before as it was too painful, so perhaps we should focus on the positives from the first 2-and-a-half rounds more than his eventual finish.
It’s fair to say that Wallace has tended to go off the boil a little after his victories on Tour, although that wasn’t always the case as he rattled off 6 Alps Tour wins in quick succession back in 2016, so can clearly hold his form when the mood takes him. Opening rounds of 64 and 67 in Portugal on his last start threatened another contending performance, however he faded over the weekend and perhaps he wasn’t quite over the mental and physical strain that had seen him pull out of the KLM Open the week before. With a week’s worth of additional rest under his belt, his appetite well and truly whet from the weekend’s action in Paris, and the lure of a top-50 OWGR spot, I can see another huge week coming from Matt here. RESULT: T28
ontending performances from one of the European Ryder Cup team has been the feature of recent Dunhill Links events that followed immediately after the main event, with Martin Kaymer winning here in 2010 and Rory McIlroy finishing runner up in 2014 after their exploits at Celtic Manor and Gleneagles respectively, however perhaps it’s one of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains who’ll make the biggest impact here this week with Padraig Harrington taking preference. Tommy Fleetwood’s incredible partnership with Francesco Molinari meant that the Southport man played 5 times in three days and eventually ran out of steam against Tony Finau in the singles, whereas teammate Thorbjorn Olesen was rested after an unsuccessful first foray into the tournament on Friday morning before producing an outstanding 5&4 victory over Jordan Spieth in the singles to undoubtedly put a spring in his step ahead of this week. Tyrrell Hatton is defending this week as he seeks a rare three-peat, however he too was used quite sparingly and like Olesen contributed just a single point to the cause. Once the partying has subsided, it wouldn’t surprise to see any of these three contend this week – although each are risky at the relatively short prices on offer.
Qualifying by rights or even snaring a captain’s pick was never remotely a consideration for this year’s Ryder Cup for Harrington, however as one of Bjorn’s trusty aides he was involved throughout and with 6 appearances in the team over the years his wealth of experience will have been another important part of the overall jigsaw. It’s clear from listening to his excellent interview with Andrew Cotter that he believes he’s far from finished at the age of 47 and that his game’s in the kind of shape to contend and win events all the way up to Major level. To back up his assertion that there’s life in the old dog yet, recent form on the golf course has been extremely encouraging with a runner-up finish to Andrea Pavan at the Czech Masters where we made just 2 bogeys on the week on his way to a 20-under total, then he finished 5th at the KLM Open on his next start, 3 shots behind eventual winner Ashun Wu. Another 21 birdies that week encourages further for the challenge of a Dunhill Links birdie-fest and despite a missed cut in Portugal on his last start, I’m happy to support him here at an event that he’s already won twice in the past in both 2002 and 2006.
Back-to-back Open Championship victories in 2007 and 2008 add further validation to his links credentials if any were needed, however it’s the fact that his irons are working so nicely that ultimately gets him the nod. 87.5% of greens found in regulation in Holland led the field in that respect and after more than 2 decades of professional golf that represents the best recorded GIR stats of his career. For a player like Harrington, who ordinarily makes his score through a combination of scrambling and putting, that’s as strong an indicator of impending success that we’re likely to see, especially as he returns to an event that’s been so good to him over the course of his career. RESULT: T7
Prior to Tyrrell Hatton’s dominance of this event over the past 2 years, we had an eclectic mix of winners here in the shape of David Howell (125/1), Oliver Wilson (500/1) and Thorbjorn Olesen (200/1) who were clearly unfancied given their starting prices. All had one thing in common though and that was a previous top-3 finish here at the Dunhill Links at some point prior to their success here: Howell had finished 3rd, 6th, 5th and more recently 8th before his win in 2014; Wilson had produced a fast-finishing 2nd in 2009 with a final round 65 to sit alongside Rory McIlroy behind Simon Dyson; and Thorbjorn Olesen contended all week in 2012 to finish 2nd behind Branden Grace. Bradley Dredge’s 2nd place finish here back in 2006 is encouraging form then, albeit distant, however a more recent contending performance in 2015 when he was 4th heading into Sunday suggests that an investment is worthwhile at the price on offer. Truth is, the 45 year-old has tended to produce his best golf in and around the British Isles and a further runner-up finish at Gleneagles (and another 2 top-10 finishes there over the years), plus a top-10 at the Scottish Open all bode well. Both of the Welshman’s European Tour wins followed a top-20 finish, so incoming form of 6th (KLM Open) and 16th (Portugal Masters) offers further encouragement and crucially he’s putting well again ahead of a week where a decent putting performance is pretty much a pre-requisite. 13 birdies over the weekend in Portugal and rounds of 65/67 to finish will have set him up nicely for this and although there’s always the suggestion of frailty on a Sunday, let’s hope he can produce the kind of finish that saw him win both of his Tour titles by a clear 8 shots should he find himself in with a chance here this week. RESULT: MC
When I look at the price on offer for Oliver Fisher this week – the first man to break 60 on the European Tour on his last start in Portugal – my mind instantly drifts to Vegas. Not so much the place, although if Oli does win here this week then perhaps a trip to Nevada is in order, however I’m thinking more of Jhonattan Vegas who came within a single putt of hitting that same magical number in the second round of the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship in 2016, before cleaning up on his next start in Canada at 125/1. Like Fisher, the bookies saw that flying round as a one-off and priced him accordingly, however the Venezuelan rewarded those who looked past his flat 72-72 weekend following his low scoring round, and what had otherwise been an indifferent year. It’s almost a carbon copy for Fisher who, aside from a runner-up finish in Qatar, has had a quiet year prior to that explosion of birdies on the Algarve. A quiet weekend of 69-70 was almost inevitable for the 30 year-old who was the talk of the town for the remainder of the event, however with the focus firmly on the shoulders of the Ryder Cup heroes this week, I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see the Essex man improve on his personal best here of 7th from 12 months ago. Despite his massive potential, Fisher has only one European Tour trophy to his name – the 2011 Czech Open – however, perhaps having etched his name into the record books with his effort a fortnight ago, he’ll find a new level of resolve at the business end of events having closed out his 59 so competently. Aside from his effort here last year, 10th at the Irish Open last year also correlates well, as does a decent record on the linksy tracks of the KLM Open over the years. With confidence high, I’m happy to take the plunge this week given Fisher’s odds. RESULT: T32
Some players are worth following on certain tracks or parts of the world regardless of their current form and Marc Warren is worth more than a cursory look whenever he tees it up anywhere in Scotland. The 37 year-old’s results in his homeland over the years include a win at Gleneagles in 2007, 3 top-4 finishes at the Scottish Open, a semi-final appearance at the 2015 Paul Lawrie Match Play and 3 top-5 finishes here at the Dunhill Links, including twice in the past 2 years. It’s interesting to note that the years where he’s produced his best form here at the Home of Golf have tended to coincide with a late-season dash to find the necessary results to ensure his playing privileges, and this season is no different as he currently sits at 150th in the Race to Dubai. The prize fund available this week tends to focus the mind though and a top-6 finish or better should be enough for Warren to guarantee that he doesn’t need to visit Q-School later this year. The 3-time European Tour winner has talked in the past about small ‘sparks’ that can create the confidence in his game that’s previously seen him venture inside the OWGR top-50, and although there’s not been a great deal to shout about this season, 17th at the Nordea Masters last month contained rounds of 65 and 66 over the Friday and Saturday which put him in 3rd place heading into the final day and in with a realistic chance of adding a fourth title to his collection. A final round 73 put paid to that dream, however after a quartet of missed cuts to follow, a 2nd round 64 in Portugal on his last start hinted that he might not be quite ready to write this season off just yet. Clearly backing a player like Warren can be a risk, however if there’s one part of the world that he can find his form it’s here in Scotland and the incentive to perform is huge, so at the price on offer I’m happy to take that chance. RESULT: MC
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