A week on from the drama and high intensity of the Ryder Cup, the European Tour breathes out with a pro-am – the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.
But despite this being an exercise in celeb spotting for some, gamers have to knuckle down again as the purse is a substantial $5m and over double we’ve had in five of the last six European Tour events.
As usual, the event is held over three venues and, for some amateurs in the field, there’s the bucket list opportunity to play the Old Course at St. Andrews.
That stages one of the three opening rounds along with Carnoustie at Kingbarns before the pro and amateur prizes are fought out at the Old Course on Sunday afternoon.
The field this week includes double defending champion and Ryder Cup winner Tyrrell Hatton while Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau stay on this side of the pond to try and erase the memories of last week’s heavy defeat at Le Golf National.
They’ll love the wide-open spaces of the Old Course while Carnoustie won’t play anywhere near as hard as it did in last year’s Open Championship.
St Andrews – Par 72; 7,307 yards
Carnoustie – Par 72; 7,345 yards
Kingsbarns – Par 72, 7,227 yards
As usual, green speeds need to run slow (10 on the stimp) in the event of strong winds while avoiding bunkers and being good when finding them is always a skill requirement in links golf. A reminder that there are 14 par 4s on the Old Course and all three layouts are exposed to the elements.
Winning scores, winners and stats
2017 -24 Tyrrell Hatton (DD: 59, DA: 39, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 13)
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)
Notes: Hatton’s back-to-back victories mean that 13 of the 17 winners of this event are GB & Ireland players. Makes sense as many grew up playing in the wind and cold. Olesen is a Dane who likes wind while 2012 champ Branden Grace was a links lover too. Even though the courses don’t play as tough as they would in a national Open or The Open itself, past form in these conditions is a very obvious and useful pointer.
This could get interesting. Bobble hats are common attire in this event and they should be seen aplenty with temperatures in the 50s. It looks particularly chilly on Saturday. Throw in some Thursday rain and winds (approaching 20mph) and these could be long, old days with the amateurs hacking around.
The Leading Contenders
The three-time major winner plays links courses well and has shown it in this very event by finishing runner-up in 2014 and T9 in 2015. He was also T10 in the 2015 Open at St. Andrews and T6 at Royal Birkdale in 2016. The American (1.5pts out of 4 at Le Golf National) should enjoy this week much more than last in lots of ways although he’s not available for the official European Tour fantasy game.
A star of the Ryder Cup and one half of the new sensation that is ‘Moliwood’. Four wins out of four alongside Molinari made it a dream debut for Fleetwood although he did run out of gas in the singles when getting thrashed by Tony Finau. If he can recover from the celebrations, this has been a great event for the Englishman as he has a second, two other top fives and a further three top 25s. T11 at East Lake.
While the Ryder Cup was a forgettable experience for most of Team America, Finau emerged with plenty of credit and was the only wildcard to register any points at all. His 2-1-0 record included the biggest thumping in Sunday’s singles as he took down Fleetwood 6&4. Any penchant for links golf? Definitely. He’s pegged it up in The Open three times and posted 18-27-9 and, of course, headed to Paris on the back of some great form in the FedExCup play-offs. Not a Euro Tour member.
A combined 47-under at this tournament for the last two years and, not surprisingly, he won both times. Three other top tens in the Scottish Open further highlight his love for this part of the world so the only ‘X’ factor this week is how will he react after being part of Europe’s triumph in Paris. Hatton won just a single point but had been playing nicely on the PGA Tour (28-10-20-12-29) over the summer.
A three-time runner-up on the European Tour and you sense each near miss hurts him even more. Those second places came in Oman (February), Open de France (July) and KLM Open (September) and he’s followed his most recent with T12 in Portugal. Surprisingly, given his links pedigree, he hasn’t played here for the last two years but from 2012 to 2015 Wood finished 15-7-9-4.
Pepperell’s big summer performances on the links – runner-up Scottish Open, T6 The Open – almost got him a Ryder Cup place. He’s not cooled off since and another second place at the Portugal Masters two weeks ago was his fifth top ten in seven starts since July. Event form? He did miss the cut from 2014-2016 but hit back with T7 here last year after a closing 65 at the Old Course.
The Irishman has a strong links pedigree and has connected five top 25s at the Alfred Dunhill, a sequence started with a third place in 2013. Also T6 in 2014, Lowry has shown his best form of the season over the last few months with three top 15s on the PGA Tour, including T12 at the PGA Championship, and T6 at the Portugal Masters a couple of weeks ago. Strong GIR figures.
Defeat in the singles might have made his Ryder Cup debut a rather bittersweet experience after playing and losing his only game before Sunday. Instead, the Dane came out and thrashed Jordan Spieth 5&4 to end his week on a glorious high. As well as all his impressive recent form, Olesen won this event in 2015, was runner-up in 2012 and says he loves playing in the wind.
After surprisingly missing the cut here in 2015 and 2016, the Englishman closed with a trio of 68s for T15 last year. He’s a slight gamble this week given how many 36-hole exits he’s made on the Scottish links (MC at Carnoustie in this year’s Open) although let’s not forget that he won on his very latest start when landing the European Masters in Switzerland. T7 in Denmark before that.
The South African would probably be happier if all four rounds were played at St. Andrews having won the 2010 Open there and made a play-off in 2015. That said, he’s been no slouch in this three-course event with top sixes in 2011 and 2014 although he suffered MCs between those two efforts. Put together seven straight finishes between T5 and T31 in America before his play-offs ended with T58 at the BMW.
The Next Rung
Pieters will have been pleased for his European colleagues but also regretful that he wasn’t part of the party having top scored in the previous Ryder Cup. He did make a fairly strong late push with T6 in the Scottish Open, T6 in the PGA Championship and T9 in the Czech Masters but he’s found it hard to hide frustrations in his game. Here, he’s 2-for-3 with T18 on debut in 2014.
Grace famously rode an opening 60 at Kingsbarns to victory in 2012 and his low ball flight makes him a great fit for this style of golf. Surprising, then, that his six starts since have produced nothing better than T20. Current form also reveals some doubts as since becoming a father for the first time in April he’s struggled, with T27 in the PGA at Bellerive his only top 40 finish in his last five starts.
A vice-captain at the Ryder Cup, Kuchar is another American happy to extend his European trip. We last saw him on these shores finishing T9 in The Open at Carnoustie although his form either side has been disappointing. Owns a second and a fourth in two of his last three Scottish Opens and, notably, is available for the official European Tour fantasy game. He’s a legitimate contender for anyone’s six-man team.
With 14 of his last 16 rounds in the 60s, the Dane is on one of his streaks and that consistency has led him to finishes of 9-6-2-20. That’s the good news. The bad is a pair of MCs in the Irish and Scottish Opens recently and three straight early exits here which all suggests the links rather act as his kryptonite.
The Englishman has had five cracks at the event from 2011 to 2015 but four MCs and a T51 perhaps persuaded him that it wasn’t for him. However, he’s back after a break and perhaps feeling more confident about the task in hand after T6 on the links at the Irish Open. Also T20 at the Portugal Masters on his last start.
Erik Van Rooyen
A star on the links back in the summer when he was the 54-hole leader in the Irish Open before finishing T4 and then T6 at halfway in The Open (ended T17). He’s kept up his good form with a top five at the Made In Denmark and T11 in the KLM Open and there’s every reason to suggest the South African can improve on his T58 here in 2016, his first and only start in the event.
So he wasn’t needed after all! Failing to get a Ryder Cup wildcard pick now seems like less of a hard-luck story given how well Garcia and Stenson played so Wallace needs to focus on the next one. He certainly has the talent and determination to make it after three wins this season although this would be a step up in terms of prestige. T59 on debut last year and links form not great.
The runner-up here for the last two years, the second after closing with a course-record 61 at St. Andrews. That’s something to tell the grandchildren. Go back further and he has another second place in 2008 so he’s a big fan of the layouts and format. 59-MC-40 on last three European Tour starts is a concern though.
The European Tour’s most recent strokeplay winner after he landed the Portugal Masters for a second time two weeks ago. That followed a third and a win on the Challenge Tour so hardly came out of the blue. The Englishman, of course, first came to attention when holding a piece of the first-round lead as an amateur at the 2011 Open. He’s had four MCs here in the last five years but current form suggests he can get closer to his third place at this event in 2013.
One of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains at Le Golf National, Harrington will have plenty of good vibes and he’ll also have some from his own play after suddenly finding some form with second place in the Czech Masters and T5 at the KLM Open in two of his last three starts. A links legend after two Open wins and two victories in this event although he’s missed the cut here the last three years.
The New Zealander is 0-for-2 at this event but he’s shown a real affinity for links golf over the last few seasons with second and fourth in the Irish Open and sixth and fourth in the Scottish Open. He’ll enjoy launching it off the tee again after playing some tighter courses recently and T27 in Portugal last time could be a good marker.
Rated 100/1 and over by some bookies after a dip in form but loves this event (12-4-4) and won by the coast in Sicily earlier this year.
Local man has gone 4-5 here the last two years and also posted a top five in 2011 so this is definitely his scene. Shot second round 64 in Portugal last time.
Two missed cuts out of two here after putting himself behind the 8-ball with R1 78s both times. Has some hot form on the links though and five top 25s in last nine worldwide starts.
Runner-up in the 2006 edition and 13-11-25 the last three years. T16 and T6 in his last two starts so the veteran has some converging trends.
2017 Scottish Open runner-up and T8 in that same event in 2016. T38 on debut here two years ago and top 20s in two of his last three starts.
Was thrilled to attend the Ryder Cup as a guest of the European Tour (Matt Wallace turned down chance) so might have some secret inspiration. 2-for-4 here. Top ten in Demark recently.
Five-year form at this event reads 36-11-9-MC-20. Is 5-for-5 on the European Tour since mid-July.
Another of Bjorn’s assistants who will be buzzing and potentially inspired. Four top tens here and the most recent was T7 last year. Not played since MC at Hilton Head though due to back problems.
Mr 59’s first event since his record-breaking round in Portugal. Finished T7 there; also finished T7 here last year.
Who’s On The Team?
There are some good examples of players winning straight after a Ryder Cup loss, the most famous Bernhard Langer after missing THAT putt at Kiawah Island in 1991. Davis Love also managed it in 1997.
The big dilemma is trying to guess how Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Thorbjorn Olesen will perform. If this wasn’t on the back of Le Golf National, all three would be almost certain to make most six-man teams for the official game.
I’ll reveal my line-up in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips Feature.
One To Swerve
Lucas Bjerregaard has plenty of good recent form but this style of golf is usually a struggle for him.