Thinking about next week's Open Championship? Read our pre-event pointers and what to expect at Royal Birkdale in our Open Preview here!
The annual warm-up event to The Open Championship has once again attracted a decent field who'll battle for the boosted $7m prize fund as the European Tour's Rolex Series continues with some pace. After returning to Castle Stuart again last year, the event switches to a new venue for the European Tour as Dundonald Links on the Ayrshire coast makes its debut. With the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed in attendance, and with typically changeable Scottish weather in the forecast, we're in for a real treat this week.
The field for next week's Open Championship was all but decided last week with David Drysdale, Ryan Fox, Jamie Lovemark, Sebastian Muñoz, Richie Ramsay, Xander Schauffele and Robert Streb all grabbing a late spot at Royal Birkdale, however there still remains one final chance to qualify with the top 3 non-exempt finishers inside the top 12 here this week also earning themselves a start next week. Some differing objectives in Scotland then - many will be using this as a straightforward warm-up on an unfamiliar links track, whereas others will be holding onto the faintest of hopes that a lofty finish can see them gain a late, late entry into golf's oldest Major.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the John Deere Classic - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Overview. Kyle Phillips, whose most famous creation Kingsbarns is a staple part of the Alfred Dunhill Links each year, took what was a derelict 18th century 9 hole course that had been turned over to farm use during the war and out of the Ayrshire linksland carved what is now known as Dundonald Links. Opened in 2003 and measuring an even 7,100 yards from the Championship tees, this relatively flat piece of land resembles a classical links that's been in place for centuries and not a little over a decade which is to Phillips' great credit. Undulating fairways are the order of the day and sand dunes border most of the holes, however as per normal with a links track the difficulty of the course will be almost entirely dictated by the strength of the breeze despite this course not sitting right on the coastline itself. Deep pot bunkers are to be avoided at all costs, however USGA-standard greens will offer birdie opportunities to players who can find putting surfaces in the requisite number. 4 mid-length par 5s offer the best scoring opportunities to the professionals who can find the fairway off the tee.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Scottish Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note, Dundonald is hosting this event for the first time this year: 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. 2016: Alex Noren, 50/1; 2015: Rickie Fowler, 22/1; 2014: Justin Rose, 14/1; 2013: Phil Mickelson, 22/1; 2012: Jeev Milkha Singh, 100/1; Luke Donald, 10/1; Edoardo Molinari, 70/1 . For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Breezy conditions are likely throughout with wind speeds averaging 10-20mph and with sunshine and heavy showers forecast conditions could prove to be tricky, particularly when the weather blows in. Cool temperatures will struggle to progress much further than the mid-50s Fahrenheit.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
This is the first European Tour event being held at Dundonald Links, however the Ladies Scottish Open has been hosted here for the past 2 years and performance stats were recorded last year, so in lieu of anything more tangible that gives us a little insight into the requirements here:
Of course the setup was different for the LET event, playing a total of 6,303 yards, however it's still interesting to note that in general fairways and greens weren't difficult to hit for the ladies and the event was essentially won on the greens. Averaging no more than 2 bogeys per round was key last year and with the par 5s ranking amongst the easiest holes, players who can score heavily on those holes have to be favoured.
A few quotes from last year's LET event might also help point us in the right direction:
Gwladys Nocera. "It's a difficult course if the wind picks up because there are a lot of bunkers in play off the tee and the greens have a lot of double slopes, so it's really hard to read the lines but we've done a good job."
Becky Morgan. "My putting has been great. I've holed a couple of bombs. I eagled the 18th today which was my ninth hole from about 45 feet and holed out from six feet really well. I haven't had a bogey yet so it's been good."
Linda Wessberg. "I played well all day, started off really well, but then didn't really make any birdies and had a hard time hitting the fairway. The first cut is quite difficult when you're trying to attack the pins."
Incoming Form: Recent form for all winners of this event listed below had been good enough to shortlist at least with each Scottish Open champion in that time having recorded a minimum of one top-10 finish in their last 4 starts. In fact you can extend that trend right back to 2002 with the marginal exception of 2004 winner Thomas Levet, however he had finished 8th at Wentworth 5 starts prior and 2nd in Italy a month before that.
Event Form: Despite this event hopping about in terms of venue, the last 6 Scottish Open winners had also recorded at least one top-10 finish in this event prior to lifting this trophy. The trend stops at Edoardo Molinari, however there may be something positive in terms of experience of playing in similar conditions with similar grasses in the past - indeed the Italian had finished runner-up on his last start on Scottish soil on the Challenge Tour the previous year.
For me there are couple of likely routes to success here this week, either a top-quality ball-striking performance where the majority of fairways and greens are found, or a sublime short game performance from a player who's a little more wayward. Like Portstewart last week, the course is likely to be softer than hoped for given recent weather and this may well produce a similar looking leaderboard at times to last week, notwithstanding that there are some important differences in the field here this week. However with a little more wind in the forecast this week I'd expect the winning score to be on a different scale to last week's effort that saw Jon Rahm win at 24-under and those players who can handle a bit of wind and rain have to be favoured.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
With 4 of the last 6 winners of the Scottish Open ranking as 22/1 or shorter shots at the start of the week, simply trying to find value further down the betting list this week may not be the correct approach. Rickie Fowler rates as the 8/1 favourite here over Rory McIlroy (11/1), however whilst both men could clearly win this - and Rickie is a former Scottish Open champion to boot - I suspect that both are going to be more focussed on sharpening their games for next week. That's not to say they don't win - clearly in position on Sunday they won't forgo an opportunity of more silverware I'm sure - however the big prize is a week further down the line for that pair.
Now you could argue the same point should hold for Alexander Noren who's 4th favourite for this event and as world number 9 his aspirations should be more about becoming a Major champion than defending his title here. The Swede has clearly progressed massively in a 12-month stretch that's seen him win 5 events in total and the next step is to surely improve on his personal best Major effort of 9th at the 2012 Open, however up until this point in his career his best efforts have come outside of the Majors. In fact, in a fair few instances, his best efforts have actually come in his last outing before a Major or some other significant event and perhaps that's where his mental game is right now. To back that point up, his 2011 Wales Open win was his last outing before he missed the cut at the US Open; his 2011 Nordea Masters win preceded the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in his schedule (finished 53rd); his 2015 win at the Nordea Masters was followed by a missed cut at the US Open; his win in Scotland last year was obviously immediately before the Open Championship (46th); his Nedbank win preceded the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (23rd) and his most recent win at Wentworth was the week before competing at home in Sweden which is clearly a big deal for him. A couple of other wins don't follow that trend, however for me there may be something in the fact that he can mentally relax the week before an important event to him and that in turn allows him to play some of his best golf.
The 34 year-old's most recent performances when defending are encouraging as he's finished 10th and 12th at the Nordea Masters on the last 2 occasions he's returned as champion and he'll clearly get a lot of practice in over the next 12 months in this respect given how prolific he's been of late. In two instances he's won the same trophy twice so clearly positive vibes may well play a part in his psyche and 10th on his last start in France suggests he's lost little of the form that he's shown over the past 12 months. If short game performance is one valid route to success then scrambling performances of 3rd, 4th, 2nd and 5th in the field from his past 4 performances excluding the missed cut at Erin Hills bodes very well, however there's a hell of a lot more to his game than that as we've seen in abundance this past year.
I was a little disappointed that Ross Fisher didn't play last week in Ireland as his name had been added to my notepad in big, bold letters following his performance at Le Golf National where he was regularly peppering the flag and, importantly, making some decent putts. His decision to take a break and return this week was planned though so that he was fresh for this week and next and that might just pay dividends for the 5-time European Tour winner.
As with many of the British and Irish players, links golf is a staple part of the game as players progress through their junior and amateur careers and it was no different for Ross who's also twice finished runner-up at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Perhaps his most prominent links performance though was a few miles down the Ayrshire coast at Turnberry in 2009 when he held a two shot lead early in the final round before making a snowman at the 5th hole and eventually drifting away to 13th place. With a heavily pregnant wife at the time, his focus may have been compromised to a degree though and the added pressure of leading a Major on a Sunday eventually told, however this week's test is undoubtedly far easier and the 36 year-old is playing good enough golf to win an event like this in my view. 6 top-10 finishes in his last 10 starts globally tells us everything we need to know about his game right now and with a week's rest under his belt following a personal best effort in France, I can see the Englishman contending here in Scotland.
The early gamble this week has been on Richie Ramsay and I see no reason not to jump on the bandwagon. Early quotes of between 80/1 to 100/1 were gobbled up early on Monday, however 66/1 is a more sensible reflection of Ramsay's chances here on home soil. 2nd last week was the 34 year-old's best effort on Tour since winning his most recent European Tour event in Morocco 2 years ago and was the culmination of a spell of form in 2017 that had seen all aspects of his game in decent nick without previously all coming together over the course of a single week. 86.1% greens in regulation at Portstewart is the important number for me as we know that the Scot can keep his ball out of trouble from off the tee with consummate ease when at the top of his game and a 1.68 putting average when hitting that many greens is always going to bode well. Form in his homeland in general has been good throughout his career, the highlights of which are 4th and 2nd at the 2009 and 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links events, 6th at the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2012 and 6th again at last year's Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Home comforts this week will allow the 3-time European Tour winner to see his family and with an Open Championship invite in his pocket there's no pressure on him to compete which might just bring the best out of him here.
Some longer-priced players who caught my eye complete my team this week. First up Jordan Smith who's one of the brightest prospects to emerge from last season's Challenge Tour graduates and the Wiltshire lad has more than enough game to suggest that a European Tour breakthrough is just around the corner. Going back to 2010 we saw Challenge Tour graduate Edoardo Molinari secure his maiden victory on the top teir of European golf at the Scottish Open following an excellent season on the second rung the year before and it was interesting to note that the Italian had finished 2nd on his previous visit to Scotland at the previous year's Scottish Challenge; with Jordan finishing 3rd in the same event last season, perhaps a similar sequence of events will repeat itself this year. Fact is though, there's a little more substance to his challenge this week than a little bit of tenuous correlation with a result from 7 years ago on a different Scottish track - the 24 year-old is playing some quietly impressive golf. 3rd at the BMW SA Open, 6th in Qatar and 8th in Morocco are all positive efforts at European Tour level and despite this being a higher quality field, the fact that we're playing a new track for most players here this week is somewhat of a leveller in my opinion. 30th in France featured an excellent 2nd in ball-striking performance which is no mean feat at Le Golf National and 20th last week in Ireland saw the 2-time Challenge Tour winner rank 2nd in the all-round category. Playing in the same three-ball as Rory McIlroy and eventual winner Graeme Storm at the SA Open has given Smith a boost of self-confidence and links golf holds no fear, "I'd like to say that I'm pretty good in the wind. Obviously growing up, playing a lot of links courses, amateur days, sort of get used to those sort of things," he said in Qatar on another linksy type of track.
With 3 final Open Championship spots up for grabs, siding with a player who's got a track record of earning a back-door entry to golf's oldest Major via this event isn't a bad ploy and following that angle through screams Scott Jamieson. A putt on the 72nd hole earned the 33 year-old a place at Royal St George's in 2011 and he repeated the feat 3 years later to grab a late berth at Royal Liverpool courtesy of an 8th place finish in this event. Of course outside of those two efforts he's missed the cut on 4 occasions, however at 175/1 we're getting ample reward if he can draw on those positive experiences and produce another big week here. The Glaswegian has been working on his swing for a few months now and the results have been impressive with 6 top-25 finishes in his last 10 events, 3 of which were fuelled by top-3 GIR performances including in very good company at Wentworth (finished 14th). 14th last week in Ireland was also positive as it was the putter which took centre stage as 1.60 putts per GIR led the field in terms of flat stick performance. If the work that he's been doing on his long game happens to collide with that red hot putter this week then we could see a very strong performance from the Scot who will undoubtedly be keen to add a 4-round European Tour title to his 36-hole Nelson Mandela Championship success from nearly 5 years ago.
At the price on offer, I'm happy to take the chance that Matthew Southgate can continue his excellent form from last week into this. Having won his Open Championship qualifier at Royal Cinque Ports last Tuesday to guarantee his spot at Birkdale next week, you could have excused the amiable 28 year-old for a poor performance in Ireland with job effectively done - he was having none of that clearly. With his game in good nick and the set-up changes made to his driver washing through to his long game, he played some flawless golf at Portstewart to finish in a tie for 2nd place behind the runaway Jon Rahm. "I've driven it as good as anyone can drive it. Just every single drive's come out completely neutral. I mean, there's not really many golf courses in the world that are that difficult, if you slap-bang it in the fairway, and I'm not a short hitter. So we've taken the course apart, really, with driver this week," he said after last week's effort and with his European Tour card for next year now secure he can tackle the rest of the season with fearless abandon. Does that mean he'll play well this week? Well, it could go either way of course and the big prize is clearly to improve on his 12th place finish at last year's Open next week, however with confidence spiralling through his game - and quite rightly having topped driving accuracy and GIR stats last week - I'm happy to take the price offered here this week.
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