SCOTTISH OPEN: The eyes of the golfing world turn to Scotland this week, as a top flight international field has gathered for one final links test before next week’s Open.
The decision to move the Scottish Open to links-style courses, as opposed to the American-stye Loch Lomond, where it was held from 1996-2010, has been well received by players and fans alike, and this week most of us will get our first look at Dundonald Links, a Kyle Phillips design that is said to have the look and feel of Scotland’s old classics despite being open for less than 20 years. This will be Dundonald’s first real turn in the spotlight, though it has hosted several significant amateur events and was a First Stage site for the European Tour Q-School from 2008-2011, so it’s likely that several players in the field have seen it in competition at some point.
A par-72 that measures just 7,055 yards, it’s short by Tour standards, and it’s fair to wonder whether some of the longer players will simply overpower the place, much like Jon Rahm did at Portstewart last week. The green complexes are said to be tricky– several greens supposedly slope off severely on all sides, requiring a bit of short game imagination if the approach shot isn’t perfect– but it isn’t clear whether that will be enough of a defense to hold off the low numbers. We saw a 4-under par cutline at the Irish Open last week and a winning score of 24-under, and if the weather is relatively mild over the next few days another birdie fest is certainly a possibility.
But the Ayrshire weather is anything but predictable, and rain is in the forecast for the first three days. If the wind picks up we could see Dundonald’s true character emerge, and in that case it would probably be best to stick close to players with plenty of links experience.
Sweden’s Alex Noren triumphed last year at Castle Stuart and he’s one of the favorites again this year, as only three players are currently saddled with shorter odds. But those three players– Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, and Henrik Stenson– are all among the top-10 in the latest world rankings, and all three have notched significant victories on links courses in the past couple of years. In other words, there’s some genuine strength at the top of the market this week, and considering this tournament’s history of producing big-name winners, this may be a good time to ride with one of the favorites.
With that in mind, here are this week’s selections:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Henrik Stenson (17.0)- I’m sure Stenson will be feeling some positive vibes this week, as he’ll be just down the road from Royal Troon, where he captured the Claret Jug last year after a stirring final-round 63, but the reasons for liking him in this spot stretch far beyond good memories. Stenson has proven to be an absolute monster on links courses over the past few years, racking up four top-3 finishes in the Open since 2008 and having considerable success in this event, as well, finishing 13th (2016), 3rd (2013), and 8th (2012) in his last three appearances. He’s great off the tee, with the ability to hit it long and straight but also to control the trajectory of his tee shots, which helps him tremendously when the weather turns nasty. Though known as a streaky putter, he seems to be very confident on the slower, more subtle putting surfaces that you often find on links courses, and his comfort with bump-and-run type shots around the green is obvious. Some may question his recent form, as he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour this season and missed the cut at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, but he’s coming off a 10th-place showing at the BMW International and he’s now finished 26th or better in 4 of his past 5 worldwide starts, a stretch that includes a 3rd-place showing in last month’s Nordea Masters, so I’m not too concerned. He’s back in his element now and is priced very reasonably, all things considered.
Peter Uihlein (47.0)- When Uihlein began his career in Europe, he probably envisioned a path similar to the one taken by his good friend Brooks Koepka: some success, some interesting travel, and a little bit of seasoning to take with him back to the States, where he would then fulfill his lifelong dream of playing on the PGA Tour. But life takes some funny turns sometimes, and Uilhein, now 27, has established himself as a force on the European Tour, ranking 8th in the Race to Dubai and seeming to grow more comfortable with each passing week. He’s playing great golf at the moment, finishing runner-up in France two weeks ago and following that up with a 14th-place showing at last week’s Irish Open, giving him six top-15 finishes since January. He also has a nice record on links courses, with a couple of quality finishes at the Dunhill Links under his belt– including a runner-up in 2013– as well as a top-10 in this tournament back in 2013, when it was held at Castle Stuart. A bona-fide bomber who averages better than 304 yards per drive, he should be able to take advantage of the shortish Dundonald layout, and he once carded a 60 at Kingsbarns, which just so happens to be the only other Kyle Phillips-designed course in Scotland. There’s a lot to like here.
Soren Kjeldsen (118.0)- The diminutive Kjeldsen has become a bit of a links specialist in recent years, registering three top-10s in his last four starts in Scotland and famously winning the Irish Open at Royal County Down back in 2015. He’s not very long off the tee but he hits it extremely straight, so he’s mostly able to avoid the long rough, deep fairway bunkers and other trouble spots that lurk on links courses, and his tee-to-green consistency allows him to be the unflappable tortoise, plugging right along as the hares around him all implode. Last week’s birdie fest at Portstewart wasn’t really his style, though he did open with back-to-back 68s, but this week, with rain expected and a tournament committee that will likely set things up as tough as possible, Kjeldsen may be in his element. He’s worth a shot at better than 100/1.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Rickie Fowler (1.84) vs. Rory McIlroy (1.91)
All eyes will be on these two guys this week, as they’ve both experienced great success on links courses and will surely be looking to sharpen things up before Birkdale. McIlroy in particular needs a good performance here after his missed cut in Ireland last week, but he hasn’t given us much reason to believe that a turnaround is coming: he’s played in just four tournaments since the Masters, missing two cuts and finishing no better than 17th. Fowler, on the other hand, has been rolling, finding the top-5 in three of his past four starts. He won this tournament two years ago at Gullane and has always professed a love for links golf. Recommendation: Fowler at 1.84
David Lingmerth (1.91) vs. Tyrrell Hatton (1.91)
Lingmerth and Hatton are a study of opposites this week: Lingmerth has been playing some terrific golf lately, finishing 26th or better in 7 of his past 9 PGA Tour starts, but he doesn’t have a particularly good links record. Hatton, meanwhile, is a flat-out links specialist who was runner-up in this event last year before winning the Dunhill Links a few months later. But he’s been struggling mightily these past few weeks, missing the cut in each of his past three starts, and his performance at Portstewart last week proves that, in his case, poor current form takes precedence over the stellar links record. Recommendation: Lingmerth at 1.91