While the Open Championship visits every five years (next due in 2020), those who can’t get enough of St. Andrews are sated every 12 months by the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
The iconic Old Course is used twice, sharing duties with Kingsbarns and Carnoustie over the first three days and then providing the setting for Sunday’s finale.
Despite amateurs, and some very famous ones at that, sharing the stage this week, it’s a significant one for fantasy managers with the $5m purse a serious step-up on what we’ve seen over the past few months.
As for the format, each pro and his amateur partner play one round at the three venues before both the pro and amateur prizes are decided at the Old Course on Sunday afternoon.
Tyrrell Hatton made the big breakthrough in this tournament last year when shooting 23-under to land his first European Tour win.
For Rory McIlroy, the search for that elusive first victory continues after three second places in this event. He’ll return on the back of another near-miss in last week’s British Masters.
St Andrews – Par 72; 7,307 yards
Carnoustie – Par 72; 7,345 yards
Kingsbarns – Par 72, 7,227 yards
Carnoustie is usually the hardest of the three links courses and gamers may want to take notes this week as it’s the scene of next year’s Open Championship. If the winds lie down, St. Andrews and Kingsbarns can be there for the taking.
Winning scores, winners and stats
2016 -23 Tyrrell Hatton (DD: NA, DA: 27, GIR: 10, Scr: 11, PA: 20)
2015 -18 Thorbjorn Olesen (DD: 32, DA: 52, GIR: 6, Scr: 87, PA: 8)
2014 -17 Oliver Wilson (DD: 64, DA: 89, GIR: 64, Scr: 1, PA: 95)
2013 -23 David Howell (DD: 68, DA: 93, GIR: 10, Scr: 32, PA: 8)
2012 -22 Branden Grace (DD: 26, DA: 112, GIR: 10, Scr: 46, PA: 6)
Notes: Firstly, note that 12 of the 16 winners of this event are GB & Ireland players who know this style of golf and grew up playing in windy and often chilly conditions. Course set-ups are easy to help the celebs so Driving Accuracy isn’t a factor. Four of the last five winners were in the top 10 for Greens In Regulation so that looks the most reliable stat to lean on.
Regular viewers or attendees of this event know that traditional uniform this week is winter wear and woolly hats. Providing a forecast on Monday (when I’m writing this) can be very foolish given how quickly the weather changes in Scotland but, right now, it’s due to rain on Thursday and Friday before clearing up on the weekend. Winds look very strong on day one (there’s actually a weather warning in place due to high winds today (Monday) but they should quieten as the week goes on. Temperatures? High 50s mostly. Wrap up warm if you’re coming to watch it live.
The Leading Contenders
After shooting the best weekend score (64-63) to surge through the field and finish runner-up at the British Masters last week, the doubts about Rory’s fitness were surely eased right back. He’s got a brilliant record in this event, with three second places (2009, 2011, 2014) and he’s finished outside the top eight in just one of his six starts here. The other question mark over Rory is his ability to play well in bad conditions but he’s toughed it out well in bad-weather Opens in recent years so those fears need to be allayed. Having not yet won in 2017, this is a golden chance to end that drought.
It was a chastening experience for the International Team at the Presidents Cup but at least Grace emerged from the 19-11 mauling with two points (second best for the visitors) and a fighting half in his singles against World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. He famously shot an opening 60 at Kingbarns before going on to score a wire-to-wire win in this event in 2012 although T25 is his best effort in four starts since and he missed the cut last year. The South African reminded us of his links abilities in July when following T15 in the Scottish Open with T6 in the Open Championship where he re-wrote the history books by becoming the first player in the history of the majors to shoot a 62.
After a real mid-season slump, Hatton has hit his straps again. A return to Crans-sur-Sierre in the Swiss mountains, one of his favorite venues, got the Englishman back on track and he followed that T3 with T8 at last week’s British Masters although he looked set to deliver more after opening 63-65 to lead by three at halfway. Hatton is the defending champion this week after equalling the course record at St. Andrews with a stunning Saturday 62 last year and he’s got a bunch of good form on links courses including a second place in last year’s Scottish Open and a top five in the 2016 Open.
The planets could be aligned for Lowry this week. First, he’s coming right into form again after T7 in last week’s British Masters. Second, he grew up playing links golf and is a proven performer in bad weather. Third, he’s got an eye-catching record in this event with finishes of 3-6-19-18 from 2013-2016. There’s also a fourth: he topped the GIR stats at Close House last week and strong iron play looks key this week.
“The most beautiful and proud moment of my life! Franklin Fleetwood born at 12.33 on 28/9/17 at 7pounds 6ounces,” he tweeted last week. Will the ‘nappy factor’ kick in straight away? Well, he probably couldn’t have picked a better tournament to test the theory as Fleetwood’s record is superb. He boasts a second place in 2014, top fives in 2011 and 2013 and top 15s in 2015 and 2016. That includes a 62 at the Old Course. “It’s my favourite course and tournament on the schedule. St Andrews would be a dream course to win on.” After an already sensational year, can the new dad hit another peak?
The Englishman threatened a real challenge at the British Masters before settling for T11 but add that to his European Masters win and he’s 25-under for his last eight rounds. However, unlike the other betting leaders, he can’t bring any course form to the table. Fitzpatrick is having his third start in this tournament and he’s yet to make it to Sunday’s final round. He didn’t show much on the links earlier this summer either when failing to make the top 40 of the Irish, Scottish or British Opens.
As tournament host, it was understandable that after two excellent days at the British Masters he would run out of gas a little on the weekend and finish T15. That followed a top three at the KLM Open and T9 at the Czech Masters two starts earlier so he’s in a nice stretch of form again. Westwood won this event way back in 2003 and has had five top 11s since although he’s missed the cut the last two years and there’s a chance he’ll want a quiet week after the hectic one at Close House.
Wood will be on the radar for plenty of fantasy managers this week and rightly so. He made his reputation with back-to-back top fives in Open Championships (2008 and 2009) and in his last four cracks at this event, the Englishman has form of 4-9-7-15. He again showed his links credentials with T14 in this year’s Open while T9 and T26 in his last two European Tour events could be the platform for another profitable trip to St. Andrews.
Finally, we can now refer to him as the winner of the British Masters 2017 rather than the bloke who led the 2015 Open at St. Andrews after 54 holes when still an amateur. But combine those two descriptions and it’s easy to see while he’ll be a popular pick this week: he’s in form and plays links golf well.
It hardly made the headlines but Kaymer’s T20 at last week’s British Masters was his best finish since T16 at Augusta National so in terms of restoring confidence his Close House performance (included two 66s) could be pivotal. Now he heads to Scotland and a tournament he won in 2010, finished runner-up in 2008 and, more recently, posted T6 last year. After weeks of being a ‘one to swerve’ candidate, Kaymer deserves a close look here.
The Next Rung
After a hot run of 5-3-3 on The European mainland, Englishman Pepperell missed the cut on his return home to the British Masters where he didn’t think much of the greens. “Ahh shoot. One week too far. A weekend off probably a good thing. One of my favourite events next week to look forward to,” he tweeted. The good vibes for the Alfred Dunhill Links haven’t been based on results there however as he’s just 1-for-4 after three MCs since a promising T26 on debut in 2013. A good links player though as shown by a second place in the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down.
Danish players often thrive on windy links and Olesen has highlighted that as well as any of his countrymen with a win in this event in 2015 after a second place in 2012. Starting with a top four at the Nordea Masters he’s 10-for-10 and that stretch of consistent golf includes three top 10s and a T14 at his home Made In Denmark two starts ago.
While Olesen is the Dane with the best event form, Bjerregaard boasts the hottest current form after a first European Tour win sandwiched by T9 in the European Masters and T8 at the British Masters. He’s had three goes at this event with T32 on debut in 2014 but MCs the last two years. He’s doing everything well at the moment so expectations should remain high.
Fisher finished runner-up to Tyrrell Hatton last year to make it an English 1-2 while he also took second place in this event in 2008. He’s no sure thing though as his tournament form from 2013-2015 reads MC-61-MC. He’s also missed three of his last four cuts on the European Tour (T31 at the KLM during that run), including an early exit at last week’s British Masters. For the time being, his hot early-season form seems to have vanished.
He’ll be carrying much of the home hopes this week and looks equipped to give the locals plenty to cheer. Ramsay made the top four on his tournament debut in 2009 and was runner-up three years ago. There’s been some disappointments too (three MCs) but he took second place on the links at the Irish Open in July and has banked recent top 10s in the European Open and last week’s British Masters.
Another with twin course and current form appeal. The South African banked T5 here in 2012 and has backed it up with T25s in both 2014 and 2016. He’ll return on a run of 3-7-15 the last three weeks (KLM Open, Portugal Masters, British Masters) and the last two events he’s opened with 64 and 63 respectively to hold a piece of the first-round lead on both occasions.
He’s won his home KLM Open twice in windy conditions but the idea that he’s not a great links player is fuelled by a trio of missed cuts here (2014-2016). The Dutchman did take T9 in 2011 but it’s his only top 20 in nine tries. Brighter news is provided by his T12 (best finish since June) in the Portugal Masters on his last appearance a fortnight ago.
It’s a shame more Americans don’t make the journey, especially those who love playing in Opens at St. Andrews. Holmes was T14 at the Old Course in 2010 and showed his mettle in bad weather when T3 in the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon. Also note the 2015 final leaderboard here when two Americans tied for second – Brooks Koepka (not really a surprise) and Chris Stroud (a big surprise). Holmes hasn’t played since lasting just one leg of the FedExCup Playoffs (MC) but he did post a couple of decent results in July with T9 at the Greenbrier and T14 in the Canadian Open. He might just have a blast this week (not available for official European Tour fantasy game).
After bouncing back to form with T3 in Portugal, Storm rewarded managers who took the ‘local man’ angle when he shot 65-67-67-67 at Close House, a venue near to his home, to take T4 in the British Masters last week. He’s got four top 25s in this event (T25 last year) and has cashed on his last five visits although Storm has yet to crack the top 10 since making his tournament debut in 2001.
Since finishing runner-up at the Made In Denmark, Horsey has fired 10 of 12 rounds in the 60s although that solid play has only been enough for T30, T38 and T31. Also second at June’s Lyoness Open, this looks another good opportunity for the Englishman to shine. He’s cracked the top 20 in three of the last four years and that includes T9 and T11 the last two.
A winner of the Paul Lawrie Match Play in Scotland, the big Thai also posted T4 in this event on his first and only start in 2015. Although he blew a golden chance for victory when slipping from leader with five to play to T9 at the KLM Open, he shot a pair of 66s for T20 at last week’s British Masters and that was a third top 20 in four starts so his form is strong. His GIR numbers are notably impressive.
Sterne has always enjoyed his trips here, especially the last two. In 2014 he posted T6 while last year the South African holed out from the fairway on the famous Road Hole 17th at St. Andrews and went on to finish runner-up. Current form (31-20-9 and four top 20s in last seven) suggests he can make an impression again.
Local man jumped from 125th to 70th on Race to Dubai with fifth last year, a repeat of his finish in 2011. Has three other top 25s in the event and back in form with second place in Portugal and T15 at British Masters.
Runner-up in 2006 and top 15 in both 2015 and 2016. Disappointing results over last few months but round scores are okay and took T15 on links course at July’s Irish Open.
Links form? Second at Irish Open, T6 at this summer’s Open Championship. Current form? Top five at Web.com’s Boise Open a couple of weeks ago. As a bonus, he’s a long-standing member at Carnoustie and once won the St. Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur.
Quiz question: Who is the only player to have finished in the top five at this event in both of the last two years. Unless you followed both events closely or have exceptional recall, you’d have a thousand guesses and not come up with Lagergren. But the Swede loves it here (he once shot a back-nine 28 at Kingsbarns) and T9 at the KLM Open suggests he could thrive again.
Unlikely owner of converging trends. The German, who won’t fly, was T4 in last week’s British Masters after a closing 63 and has T7 (2016) and T19 (2015) in two starts here.
First start since KLM Open victory (his first on the European Tour) and not worse than T33 on his last four starts in Scotland. That includes T18 and T33 in last two cracks at this event.
Shot bookend 64s when third in the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Links although he’s since gone MC-MC-MC. Had two top 10s in September, including a top three at the Czech Masters.
A slightly sentimental mention for the ‘Big Easy’ but he’s been a masters at links golf and is a two-time runner-up in this event. Way off the force he once was but can still make a mark as shown by T27 here last year and he also made the cut in three of this year’s majors.
Who’s On The Team?
Tournament specialist Rory McIlroy is very much the go-to pick here after bouncing back with a second place at last week’s British Masters.
I’ll reveal my full line-up for the European Tour’s official fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
After a hectic week hosting the British Masters where he tired as the tournament went on, Lee Westwood probably won’t feature in my plans.