With no PGA Tour action, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship takes centre stage this week so here's Steve's in-depth preview...
"Having grown up playing links golf, players from the UK and Ireland have a sizable advantage and an incredibly good record – 11 of the 14 winners to date have been English, Scottish or Irish."
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship was first played in 2001 so it's a relatively new event on the European Tour and this will be just the 15th edition but it's a tournament that's growing evermore popular as the years tick by. The Tour's only pro-am sees a stellar line-up of players and celebs doing battle over three iconic links venues over four days with those who make the cut playing St Andrews twice.
Each pro is partnered by one amateur and the teams of two each play the three separate links courses (detailed below) in rotation over the first three days. The cut is made after the third round, when the top 60 pros and ties and the top 20 teams progress to the final round at St Andrews on Sunday.
St Andrews (Old Course), Fife, Scotland
Par 72, 7,279 yards
Hole averages in 2014 - 71.16
Affectionately known as the 'The Old Lady', St Andrews is the course every golfer wants to play. It hosts the Open Championship every five years and did so this year. It's universally regarded as 'the home of golf' and, like all links courses, plays very differently depending on the weather. The 17th, known as the 'road hole', is the toughest on the course and a par there is always acceptable. The toughest stretch of the course is the final third, with the 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th all averaging over-par over the last six years. The par 5 14th offers some respite and the short 18th is a birdie chance provided you can avoid the 'valley of sin' - a big dip in front of the green. The greens at St Andrews are expected to run at around 10 on the stimpmeter.
Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Par 72, 7,412 yards
Hole averages through three rounds in 2014 - 72.11
Carnoustie has been used for the Open Championship seven times to date. The last occasion being in 2007, when Padraig Harrington edged out Sergio Garcia in a play-off but it's best remembered as the venue where Jean Van De Velde lost the plot, and the tournament in 1999 when on the 72nd hole, he blew a three-shot lead after finding the Barry Burn. Carnoustie is also famous for its treacherous pot bunkers and it's the toughest of the three venues faced this week. The greens at Carnoustie are expected to run at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter.
Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Par 72, 7,150 yards
Hole averages through three rounds in 2013 - 70.79
The newest of the three venues and located just seven miles from St Andrews, Kingsbarns is a Kyle Philips design that opened to much acclaim in 2000. With generous fairways and few water hazards, it's not a stern test in good weather. The 2012 winner, Branden Grace, opened up with a round of 60 at Kingsbarns. The greens at Kingsbarns are expected to run at around 9.5 on the stimpmeter.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 13:00 on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2009 - Oliver Wilson -17
2013 - David Howell -23 (playoff)
2012 - Branden Grace -22
2011 - Michael Hoey -22
2010 - Martin Kaymer -17
What Will it Take to Win The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship?
With very little wind forecast we look set for a low scoring birdie-fest. With so many amateurs playing, the courses are always set up easily and if the wind doesn't blow all sorts of low scores are possible - especially around St Andrews and Kingsbarns so the Birdie Average stats are well worth looking at and so are the Par 4 Scoring stats...
Oliver Wilson was the fourth winner in seven years to rank number one on the par 4s and had Peter Uihlein got the better of David Howell in the playoff 12 months earlier, it would have been five from seven.
Wilson also ranked first for scrambling and sand saves but was way down the putting stats, which is unusual as the three winners that preceded him all ranked inside the top-ten.
Here are the top-ten rankings for the last three months on the European Tour for both Par 4 Scoring and Birdie Average.
Par 4 Scoring Top-Ten and Ties
Birdie Average Top-Ten
Is There an Angle In?
All 14 winners of the event have been renowned links players so look closely at the results of the Irish and Scottish Open, the Paul Lawrie Match Play and, of course, the Open Championship, for clues. All of those events were staged on links courses and the Open was staged at St Andrews this year.
Wilson was wining for the first time in his career 12 months ago and Howell was winning for the first time in seven years in 2013 but the five winners before that had all won an event earlier in the season.
Is there an Identikit Winner?
Having grown up playing links golf, players from the UK and Ireland have a sizable advantage and an incredibly good record - 11 of the 14 winners to date have been English, Scottish or Irish. And they've often been a big price too of late.
Playing on a sponsors invite, Wilson was ranked 792 in the world rankings and he had earned just £10k on the Challenge Tour before winning here. He was understandably matched at 999/1 before the off but the clues were there. He was English, he'd finished runner-up in the event in 2009 and he was also far from the first outsider to take the title...
David Howell was matched at 240.0239/1 before the off two years ago, Branden Grace, although well-fancied this year, was a fair price in 2012 and Michael Hoey was a huge outsider in 2011.
This is a very hard event in which to make up ground in and three of the last five winners were in front after round one. Only two winners (Paul Lawrie in 2001 and Stephen Gallagher in 2004) have been further than four strokes off the pace so concentrating on the early leaders makes sense.
For the last two years I've layed the market leaders playing at Carnoustie in round one - theorising that by playing the toughest of the three venues first, they may have too much to do to win come Thursday night - but after getting away with it twice, I'm abandoning that system this time around. The first five home played Carnoustie on Thursday last year and the two play-off protagonists in 2013 (Howell and Uihlein) also played the hardest of the three venues on day one.
This is one of the best line-ups we've had on the European Tour in a while so with plenty of strength in depth and with the decent record outsiders have had in recent years, I can't see any value at all at the head of the market.
Martin Kaymer won the event in 2010 and he'll be keen to overcome the disappointment of defeat in Italy last time out, when he was matched at a low of 1.211/5 before losing a playoff to Rikard Karlberg, but I'm happy to overlook him at less than 20.019/1. And the same can be said of the 2012 winner, Branden Grace...
The South African did me a favour when he won in Qatar early in the year and I've followed him in all the majors at big prices this year but he looks short enough to me this week.
Danny Willett was in the thick of it at the Open Championship in July before winning the European Masters the following week and he'll be one for 'Nappy Factor' fans given he and his wife have just announced they're expecting their first child but he's not for me at around 20/1.
Shane Lowry elevated his career to the next level with victory in the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational in August and he's a fine links exponent. He missed the cut at the Open but he's finished third and sixth in the last two editions of this event. No doubt he'll be buoyed by that success in Akron but he hasn't played anywhere since missing the cut at the USPGA the week after his win and I'm happy to swerve him.
Given I've turned my nose up at all the market leaders, it stands to reason that I've spotted all sorts of value further down the list and I've ended up backing five, mainly outsiders, before the off.
Englishmen, Tommy Fleetwood and Eddie Pepperell, have been on my mind for this event for a while and I was happy enough to take 60.059/1 about them both. Fleetwood has gone off the boil since missing the cut at the Open when a well-fancied outsider but his form in this event is eye-catching in the extreme. He's played in the event four times and he's only once finished outside the top-five.
Pepperell is still looking for his first win on the European Tour but it's only a matter of time before he gets off the market and when he does, it's highly likely to be on a links course. He comes to life on the links and so far this year he's finished second at the Irish Open, fourth at the Scottish and fifth at the KLM Open, which this year was played at another links venue, Kennemer.
Tyrrell Hatton is my each-way selection and Roppe Kakko is a pick for very similar reasons. Both rank inside the top-ten for the two key stats and both have shown form at links venues.
A number of players have been dropped off the not so short shortlist but one I couldn't dismiss is the Paul Lawrie Match Play winner, Kiradech Aphibarnrat. He'll be inspired by the victory of fellow Thai, Thongchai Jaidee, in Germany last week and given he's already won twice on the European Tour this year (and once at a Scottish links venue) I thought 160.0159/1 was plenty big enough.
Tommy Fleetwood @ 60.059/1
Eddie Pepperell @ 60.059/1
Tyrell Hatton @ 120.0119/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat @ 160.0159/1
Roope Kakko @ 200.0199/1
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter