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Russell Knox added his name to the growing list of Rolex Series winners last week courtesy of a red-hot putter when it mattered the most and the former WGC HSBC Champions winner is another player whose name doesn’t feel out of line in a string that now reads Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose, Branden Grace, Jon Rahm (again), Francesco Molinari, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alex Noren (again) and now Knox, who leaps inside the OWGR top-50 courtesy of his win. This week’s Scottish Open is the final Rolex event until November, so those looking for a Ryder Cup qualification boost will be earmarking this event as one to attack, however with the Open Championship just a week away this will be equally about the elite players getting their games ready for Carnoustie.
The annual Open warm-up has once again attracted a decent field despite a blow on Monday with Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood all withdrawing from the event. Stenson cited an elbow injury whilst Noren and Fleetwood have opted to rest ahead of next week’s main event, however we still have a number of top-class players travelling to Scotland with Justin Rose heading the field from the likes of Rickie Fowler, Tyrrell Hatton, Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and last week’s winner Russell Knox.
The field for next week’s Open Championship was all but decided last week with Austin Cook, Ryan Fox, Jason Kokrak, Kelly Kraft, Zander Lombard, Brandt Snedeker and Andy Sullivan all grabbing a late spot at Carnoustie, however there still remains one final chance to qualify with the top 3 non-exempt finishers inside the top 10 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 a firm and fast 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.
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Course Overview. Gullane GC boasts three 18-hole courses and a composite of Gullane 1 (16 holes) and Gullane 2 (2 holes) will be used for this week in a similar fashion to 2015 when Rickie Fowler was victorious. The par 70 measures a modest 7,133 yards and with firm and fast conditions expected as the UK continues to experience a prolonged dry spell, length off the tee is likely to count for very little here this week.
Although the original architect of Gullane 1 isn’t recorded in the history books, we do know that the layout dates back to 1884 and was created from the links land that flanks the Firth of Forth with views over to Edinburgh and Fife. Typical links features such as firm, undulating fairways with tight lies, pot bunkers and wispy, penal rough for the seriously wayward are the order of the day and, as always, the elements will be the main defence against these top professionals.
In 2015, the two par-5s – the 523 yard 2nd and 599 yard 16th – played as the easiest holes on the course and most players who made the cut birdied these holes 50% of the time or more, meaning that there was very little variance to a player’s performance overall based on the par 5s. Instead, how the professionals fared on the tough par 3s and the par 4s was of far more importance and I expect that pattern to continue here this week.
In soft, lush conditions 3 years ago, eventual winner Rickie Fowler managed to reach 12-under in total suggesting that this course is no pushover; in 2013 Open Championship qualifying at Gullane the winning score over two rounds was 140 (2-under), so clearly the course can be challenging when conditions aren’t perfect for scoring and with bentgrass fairways and fescue greens seeing plenty of sunshine and very little water of late, I’m expect this to play as a fairly stiff challenge this week.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Rafa Cabrera-Bello, 50/1; 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.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Firm and fast conditions are expected as the warm, dry spell continues in the UK. Sunny spells are expected throughout the 4 tournament days with temperatures reaching a pleasant 70 Fahrenheit in the afternoons. Wind speeds of 5-10mph are expected throughout, although gusts on Friday and Saturday afternoon could exceed that at times. There’s an outside chance of a shower or two, however this should have little impact on what it a very dry course.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Looking back to the 2015 Scottish Open held here at Gullane, the key stats of the top-3 finishes were as folllows:
Length off the tee was of little consequence 3 years ago and driving accuracy, or lack of, didn’t prove to be too much of a hindrance to the players in serious contention. Greens in regulation wasn’t as crucial as most other weeks either with Fowler missing more than a third of putting surfaces and Jacquelin even worse, which ultimately put the emphasis very much on how a player performed on and around the greens.
Incoming Form: Recent form for all winners of this event since 2010 listed below had been good enough to shortlist them 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 prior to Rafa Cabrera-Bello 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 and with regards Cabrera-Bello, he’d produced a 4th place finish at the Dunhill Links over the years and a further top-10 at Gleneagles:
Looking at the 2015 results and stats in isolation, it would be very simple to assume that this course is all about a player’s short game. It’s fact that the top-3 finishers all excelled in that area for the week, however the course three years ago was far greener and more receptive and we’re going to see a very different track this year. With fast running fairways and firm greens, this is likely to be far more of a proper links test in my mind with accuracy off the tee and decent GIR of more consequence to the final result. A sharp short game certainly won’t hurt either, however for me the pendulum is likely to switch towards the more accurate players who are comfortable on links terrain.
My selections are as follows:
Russell Knox 2pts EW 22/1 with Boylesports
For some players, a victory on Tour is effectively mission accomplished and it’s time to celebrate and put their feet up for a few weeks. Not so for last week’s winner Russell Knox though who knows that his success in Ireland is only a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal of making Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team and he needs to keep his foot to the floor if he’s going to make the team on merit. Having missed out on a Captain’s pick in 2016, the in-form Scot will know that no chances can be taken when it comes to booking his place in Paris in September, “To make that team, obviously you have to win tournaments. Great start, obviously, this week. Last week, as well. But I mean, this is not good enough. I need to hammer down and I’m going to have to make that team in order to go to France,” he said after his near identical pair of 40-foot putts got him over the line last week against an unlucky Ryan Fox.
The 33 year-old has played a lot of golf recently and whilst his form is hot he knows he needs to maintain focus. Following his 2015 WGC HSBC Champions win in China, he proved that he can keep his mind on the job at hand as he very nearly won the OHL Classic the week afterwards, eventually losing out in a play-off to Graeme McDowell. This is more difficult of course – a Rolex Series event with some world-class names at the top of the bookmakers’ list this week – however whilst the likes of Fowler, Rose et al get themselves acclimatised and ready for next week’s main event, someone like Knox could easily slip through and win this title in my view.
Statistically Russell fits the bill here. Current form is a given off the back of last week’s effort and with 2 top-10 finishes at the Scottish Open – one of which was on this course here at Gullane in 2015 – his credentials in that respect require no further investigation. From tee-to-green the Inverness-born star is at the top of his game – he topped GIR last week in Ireland – and the course clearly suited his eye 3 years ago as he ranked 8th for Driving Accuracy and 2nd for GIR on the week. Couple that with the fact that his short game’s working well (top-20 for scrambling in 4 of his last 5 starts) and the putter’s in great shape too on the evidence of Sunday and we have a potent combination for this week in my view. Back-to-back wins aren’t that regular I grant you, however this feels like a great opportunity for this week’s Predictor No.1 ranked player to extend his outstanding run of form.
Graeme McDowell 1pt EW 80/1 with Betfred
Another player who needs to get a serious wriggle on if he’s going to make the Ryder Cup team is Graeme McDowell. Fact is though, before he can realistically start thinking about Le Golf National, the Northern Irishman needs to make his way into next week’s field at Carnoustie and this really is last chance saloon in that respect. With his airline losing his clubs on the way back from France, he had to skip Open Championship qualifying at St Anne’s Old Links and that’s left him with finishing inside the top-10 here as one of the top-3 non-exempt players as his only option if he’s going to be taking part next week, following a typically disappointing effort in Ireland last week. If the 38 year-old is going to make a late run at a Ryder Cup spot – or at the very least throw his name into the ring for a Captain’s pick – then qualifying for and contending in the biggest events in golf is his only real option at this stage of proceedings. In short, needs must this week for Graeme.
After a poor run of form since beating our headline selection Knox at the Mayakoba in 2015, which saw the 2010 US Open Champion drop as low as 239th in the World Rankings, G-Mac’s form has slowly started to turn around in recent times. 12th at Wentworth in May was encouraging with the short game working well and 5th at the Italian Open to follow featured his best putting average since that aforementioned victory on the PGA Tour nearly 3 years ago – clearly something has started to click. 2nd after day 1 at the Open de France was encouraging after missing the cut at the US Open and the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour and whilst 40th at Ballyliffin wasn’t great, he does tend to struggle at his home Open so that’s nothing to overly concern me given the price we have on offer this week. Whereas Ireland has been a struggle for McDowell over the years, Scotland has been far more productive as a venue with a win at this event in 2008 at Loch Lomond as well as a play-off defeat in 2004 at the Dunhill Links. In 2015 he sat in 2nd place here at Gullane going into the weekend after a pair of 66s and although he couldn’t push on, that’s noteworthy nonetheless. His last 6 visits to this part of the world have produced 5 top-20 finishes despite some indifferent form flanking those efforts and with the course suiting, motivation high and form bubbling just under the surface, I can see G-Mac outperforming his odds this week by some distance.
Matt Wallace 1pt EW 100/1 with Betfred
At the time of writing, both France and England are still in the World Cup and should either (or both) make it through to Sunday’s final then those players in the heat of battle here at Gullane will miss the match. Whether that has any bearing on a player’s performance is of course debatable – and could be entirely academic for some by that point anyway – however I suspect it will at the very least be a distraction of sorts. That said, I can’t escape backing two players who may have an eye on proceedings in Moscow on Sunday if all goes to plan for them, however given the prices on offer I’m willing to take that risk and trust that they can remain 100% focussed.
First up Matt Wallace who shouldn’t be a 3-figure price for any European Tour event at the current time. Including all OWGR ranking events, the Englishman’s professional record reads 9 wins from 65 starts in total and that kind of strike rate singles him out as a born winner. Yes, 6 of those wins were at Alps Tour level, however you can only beat what’s put in front of you and he’s subsequently followed that up with 3 European Tour victories including 2 in his last 10 starts. A missed cut at the Open de France was no great shock coming as it did immediately after his most recent success at the BMW International Open a little over a fortnight ago and an opening round of 80 in Ireland put paid to any hope of him making the cut last week. Should a player of his undoubted winning ability be chalked up at 100/1 though for this – on a course that only those who played in 2015 have any practical advantage on – as a result of those 2 efforts is debatable and I’m happy to take the chance. After winning in India in March he missed his next two cuts before getting his act together at the third time of asking and seriously contending in China where he led after 36 and 54 holes before eventually finishing 3rd. He topped the putting that week, however we’ve seen from his victories that when he’s won there are little discernable flaws in his game and in Germany last month he topped GIR and was 3rd for Scrambling on his way to victory. Matt Wallace at 100/1 has to be pretty much an automatic bet for me given what we’ve learnt from his career thus far.
Raphael Jacquelin 1pt EW 150/1 with Betfred
Finally it would be foolish of me not to stick with Raphael Jacquelin here this week after backing him in Ireland where he finished a shot outside the extended EW places having started the final day in a share of 6th, plus I’d backed him here at Gullane at another long 3-figure price in 2015 when he eventually finished runner-up to Rickie Fowler. Whilst last week was disappointing that the Frenchman couldn’t muster an each-way return from a promising position, that was little compared to 2015 when he was in contention throughout the week and it took a typical birdie-fuelled finish from Fowler to deny him a shot of the play-off at least. He eventually needed an eagle to tie on the 72nd hole and he agonisingly missed his approach by inches to seal the victory for Rickie, however it was a creditable performance regardless and he cannot be disregarded now the Scottish Open has returned to Gullane 3 years down the line. With his recent form strong – 3rd at the Shot Clock Master and 10th last week are the highlights from his last 4 starts – and a further runner-up finish and 3 more top-10s at the Scottish Open to back up his aforementioned 2nd here in 2015, there’s nothing to dissuade me from having a punt on him here this week, even if he does end up having one eye on how Les Bleus are faring on Sunday should they get that far.
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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 10.50BST 10.7.18 but naturally subjec to to fluctuation.