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Alfred Dunhill Links Championship: Event specialist Hatton too big to ignore

Golfer Tyrrell Hatton
Tyrrell Hatton - looking to win the Alfred Dunhill links for a third time
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The European Tour makes the short hop from England to Scotland for its only pro-am of the season. Read Steve's detailed preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"But for a strange back-nine collapse, Tyrrell Hatton would be lining up this week looking to win this for the fourth year in-a-row. He isn’t playing brilliantly but he’d be far from the first to find something in this unique event and at fully ten ticks higher than he is anywhere on the High Street, I was more than happy to play him at [40.0]."

Tournament History

The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is the European Tour's only pro-am. It's only been in existence since 2001 but it feels like an established tradition and it's an event that many look forward to with relish. A stellar line-up of pros and celebs do battle over three iconic links venues over four days, with those who make the cut after round three getting to play St Andrews for a second time on Sunday.

Event Structure

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.

Venues and Course Details

St Andrews (Old Course), Fife, Scotland
Par 72, 7,318 yards
Hole averages in 2018 - 71.54

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, it's universally referred to as 'the home of golf' and, like all links courses, it plays very differently depending on the weather. In benign conditions on day four two years ago, runner-up, Ross Fisher, fired an 11-under-par 61 to break the course record.

The par four 17th hole, known as the 'road hole', is the toughest on the course and a par there is always acceptable. Last year it averaged 4.39. The back-nine is tougher than the front-nine and the toughest stretch on the course is between holes 12 and 17. The greens at St Andrews are usually set to run at around 10 on the stimpmeter.

Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Par 72, 7,394 yards
Hole averages in 2018 - 73.11

Carnoustie has been used for the Open Championship eight times to date and it was the scene of Francesco Molinari's magnificent triumph last year. On the previous occasion, in 2007, 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 in 1999 when on the 72nd hole, he blew a three-shot lead after finding the Barry Burn.

Often referred to as Carnasty, Carnoustie is also famous for its treacherous pot bunkers and it's the toughest of the three venues faced this week but the set-up this week, because they have to avoid making the amateurs looking foolish, is nowhere near as tough as it is at the Open. Tommy Fleetwood shot 63 to break the course record in this event two years ago.

The finish is tough and the final four holes all averaged over-par last year, ranking as the ninth, second, first and fifth toughest holes. Combined they ranked 1.1 strokes over-par. The greens at Carnoustie are expected to run at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter.

Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Par 72, 7,227 yards
Hole averages in 2018 - 71.48

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 back-nine is tougher than the front and last year the six toughest holes were all played after the turn. The greens at Kingsbarns usually run at around 9.5 on the stimpmeter.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 13:00 on Thursday but be warned, a lot of the coverage focuses on the amateurs for the first three days and the cameras are placed primarily at only one course - the one all the main players have been 'drawn' to play at that day. It's hard going for the first three days, unless you want to see how good Hugh Grant or Huey Lewis are at playing golf.

Last Five Winners

2019 - Lucas Bjerregaard -15
2018 - Tyrrell Hatton -24
2016 - Tyrrell Hatton -23
2015 - Thorbjorn Olesen -18
2014 - Oliver Wilson -17

What Will it Take to Win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship?

What you do off the tee here is largely irrelevant but finding greens is important.

The shock 2014 winner, Oliver Wilson, ranked in the 60s for Greens In Regulation but that was unusually high and seven of the last nine winners have ranked inside the top-ten for GIR. Last year's winner, Lucas Bjerregaard, ranked third.

The last three winners have ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring and seven of the last 11 winners have played the par fours better than anyone else so Par 4 Scoring is probably a better stat to ponder that GIR.

And given how easily the course is set up, to accommodate the amateurs in the field, those that contend make lots and lots of birdies. Bjerregaard made more than anyone else last year and he was the third winner in four years to do so. This is nearly always a birdie-fest where going low is essential but, as was the case 12 months ago, the winner might just need to be a decent wind player too this year. At this early stage, a troublesome breeze is forecasted to annoy everyone all week long.

Is There an Angle In?

Lucas Bjerregaard had form at the Qatar Masters and his only previous European Tour success had come in the Portugal Masters - two events played at venues where links form holds up well - and he'd contended up until the halfway point of the 2014 Scottish Open but that was as much links form as he had in his locker. Previous links form is very important here as a rule though and the first 16 event winners had all been renowned links players.

Although he'd missed his three previous cuts in this event, prior to winning for the first time three years ago, Hatton had plenty of links form in the bag. He was placed in the 2015 Irish Open in foul conditions and prior to his victory here, he'd finished second in the Scottish Open and fifth in the Open Championship. Look closely at the results of the Irish and Scottish Open, the first two editions of the Paul Lawrie Match Play and, of course, the Open Championship, for clues. All of those events are also staged on links courses.

Previous tournament form has counted for plenty here too. Even though they were all outsiders, matched at triple-figure prices, the three winners between 2013 and 2015 had all finished inside the top-three in the event before they won.

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 event record - 13 of the 18 winners to date have been English, Scottish or Irish. Branden Grace is the sole South African winner and Germany's Martin Kaymer took the title in 2010. The other three winners have been Scandinavians.

Having blown a great chance to win the British Masters the week before, Hatton was generally a 25/1 chance two years ago but he's one of the shortest-priced winners we've had and outsiders have had a great record of late. Hatton went off at around the [60.0] mark in 2016, having been matched at [85.0] on the Monday, and that was fractionally shorter than Bjerregaard 12 months ago but they were well-fancied compared to a lot of winners!

Thorbjorn Olesen was matched at [240.0] in 2015 and the year before that, playing on a sponsor's invite, a woefully out of form Oliver Wilson was understandably matched at [1000.0]. David Howell was also matched at [240.0] before the off six years ago, Branden Grace was getting on for a triple-figure price in 2012, and Michael Hoey was a huge outsider in 2011.

In-Play Tactics

The first-round leader/leaders might be worth close scrutiny given three of the last nine winners have been in front after round one and being up with the pace is usually key.

Having started out at St Andrews, Bjerregaard was tied for eighth after round one and he was tied for the lead at halfway, after shooting seven-under-par around Kingsbarns. He slipped back into a tie for fifth with a round to go but he was helped by a quite woeful Hatton collapse in round four. The Englishman, who was bidding to win the event for a third year in-a-row, was matched at just [1.11] in-running as nothing but a straightforward victory looked likely but it all started to unravel on the 10th when he failed to make par after finding a pot bunker off the tee.

Further bogeys followed at 11, 15 and 16 and he was unable to make a single birdie on the back-nine as both Tommy Fleetwood, who was matched at a low of [1.85], and Bjerregaard pegged him back.

It's really difficult to make up ground in this event and four strokes is probably about as far down the early leaderboard as I'd like to go. We've now had 18 renewals and only two winners have been any further back than four strokes after round one - Paul Lawrie in 2001 and Stephen Gallagher in 2004.

Being drawn at Carnoustie on Thursday has been a big plus recently, with four of the last six winners all beginning the week there. David Howell and Peter Uihlein fought out a play-off in 2013, having both begun the week there, the first five home in 2014 all played there on day one, the first three home in 2015 all began the week at Carnoustie and the winner, as well as the runner-up and the fourth, all played Carnoustie on Thursday three years ago. Being drawn there on day one has clearly been advantageous of late but the last two winners both began at St Andrews.

Playing the toughest course on day one can be advantageous but we need to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Playing there on a really tough day can render a player's plight hopeless and the luck of the draw can come into play.

The best plan might well be to wait until after the first round and to survey the situation after that. The forecast may well change considerably before now and the off and even then it can't be completely relied upon.

Market Leaders

Rory McIlroy is the clear and obvious favourite but I'm happy to swerve him. As was the case last week at Wentworth, he has a mixed set of results here and it's hard to know what to expect. He really should have won the title on debut in 2007 but he fired a disappointing 71 in round four to finish third and he's been second on three occasions since, although he's far from a regular visitor. He was 53rd in 2010 and on his only start since 2014, he finished 63rd two years ago.

Despite his bizarre missed cut at the Open this year at his home course of Portrush, Rory is a fine links exponent and a former Open champion but I'm not convinced playing with his dad in the pro-am here helps his cause. Winning this prestigious title with his dad present, whether he won the pro-am element or not, would be a big deal for Rory and I just wonder if that's what's held him back. That could, of course, be utter poppycock but in a deep field at an event where outsiders prosper, and with some pretty ugly weather forecasted, he looks short enough to me at around 6/1.

Rory McIlroy drive left 1280.jpg

Irish Open winner, Jon Rahm, makes more appeal at a slightly bigger price given his terrific record on the European Tour, his current form, and the fact that he won the Irish Open in the summer. This is his first appearance in the Alfred Dunhill so how he handles the format is an unknown. The rounds are notoriously slow and it's not for everyone. He also has to lift himself after last weekend's disappointing defeat to Danny Willett so they're enough negatives to put me off him too.

Somewhat bizarrely for a top-class English golfer fast approaching 40, this is Justin Rose's event debut too. Rose won the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen back in 2014 and he was a fast-finishing runner-up to Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in last year's Open but I'm not entirely surprised to see that he hasn't played in this event before. By and large, Rose's links pedigree is ordinary for a player of his calibre and he's another one I'm happy to leave out.

Tommy Fleetwood traded at odds-on in this event last year, he's the course record holder at Carnoustie and he contended on debut way back in 2011. With event figures reading 5-55-5-2-13-15-25-2, it's hard to imagine him not contending but it's now 52 starts and almost two years since he last won and that's enough of a negative for me given he arrives in Scotland on the back of a lacklustre 60th placed finish at Wentworth.

Wind and rain won't dampen the spirits of the brand-new Open champion, Shane Lowry, and of all the market leaders, he was the one I liked best. He won't mind how foul it gets and I can see him going really well. His 11th at Wentworth last week was a cracking effort given he hadn't played in six weeks and although he missed the cut here 12 months ago, he does have a third and sixth to his name in this event. It's right up his street, he'll be smiling all week long and he's very hard to dismiss.

Selections

But for a strange back-nine collapse, Tyrrell Hatton would be lining up this week looking to win this for the fourth year in-a-row. He isn't playing brilliantly but he'd be far from the first to find something in this unique event and at fully 10 ticks higher than he is anywhere on the High Street, I was more than happy to play him at [40.0]. He's not just a phenomenal links exponent, he's also a very good poor weather player too and I can see him bouncing back to form again. He hasn't had a great year but he still finished sixth in the Open and he's too big to ignore.

Andrea Pavan looks a fair price. Following his victory at the BMW International in June (his second European Tour title) he's finished fourth at the Scottish Open and third in the Czech Masters. There have been a few disappointing efforts too but he was fifth here last year so clearly likes a links set-up and I thought [90.0] was just too big given he's no bigger than 66/1 with the books.

Eddie Pepperell is my each-way selection and another Englishman that looks overpriced is Andy Sullivan, who finished 10th last year. He hasn't managed to add to his European Tour tally since he won three events in 2015 but he's a fabulous links exponent, as he showed in the summer when finishing second to Rahm in the Irish Open.

And finally, I'm also chancing Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen. He sat eight strokes off the lead after an opening four-over-par 76 around St Andrews last year but rounds of 67, 64 and 69 saw him eventually finish fourth.

Selections:
Tyrrell Hatton @ [40.0]
Andrea Pavan @ [90.0]
Eddie Pepperell @ [150.0]
Andy Sullivan @ [250.0]
Tapio Pulkkanen @ [290.0]

I'll be back later with my Safeway Open preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Steven Rawlings,

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