The European Tour returns to Scotland this week for it's one and only pro-am and our man's back with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"As many as 13 of the 19 winners to date have been English, Scottish, or Irish and even though a Frenchman took the title last time, six of the first nine home in 2019 were English."
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is the European Tour's only pro-am. It's been in existence since 2001 but it feels like a well-established tradition and this will be the 20th edition.
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.
Last year's renewal was lost to the pandemic.
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 2019 - 68.99
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 four 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. It averaged 4.33 in 2019. 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 2019 - 71.11
Carnoustie has been used for the Open Championship eight times to date and it was the scene of Francesco Molinari's magnificent triumph three years ago. 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, it's also famous for its treacherous pot bunkers and is the toughest of the three venues faced this week. But the set-up, 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 four years ago.
The finish is tough and the final three holes all averaged over-par in 2019, ranking as the first, third and fourth toughest holes. Combined, they ranked 0.72 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 2019 - 69.53
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 in 2019, the five toughest holes were all played after the turn. The greens at Kingsbarns usually run at around 9.5 on the stimpmeter.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 09:00 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 with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Victor Perez 460.0459/1
2018 - Lucas Bjerregaard -15 65.064/1
2017 - Tyrrell Hatton -24 25.024/1
2016 - Tyrrell Hatton -23 60.059/1
2015 - Thorbjorn Olesen -18 240.0239/1
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 eight of the last 10 winners have ranked inside the top-10 for GIR. The last two winners, Victor Perez and Lucas Bjerregaard, have both ranked third.
As many as eight of the last 12 winners, and the last four in-a-row, have ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring.
Given how easily the courses are set up, to accommodate the amateurs in the field, those who contend make lots of birdies. Perez made more than anyone else two years ago and he was the fourth winner in five years to do so. This is nearly always a birdie-fest, where going low is essential.
Is There an Angle In?
Perez was hard to spot before the off. He was the first Frenchman to take the title and he didn't have any links form to boast or any form at any links type tracks.
Previous links form is usually an essential prerequisite to winning this event so punters were left scratching their heads, but not for long. It was only after he'd won that the story broke widely that his girlfriend was Scottish, that he'd moved to Dundee, and that he was playing lots of links golf.
Lucas Bjerregaard didn't have an abundance of obvious previous form either, but he had form at the Qatar Masters and his only previous European Tour success had come at the Portugal Masters - two events played at venues where links form holds up well. He'd also 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 17 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 five years ago, Hatton had plenty of links form. 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, 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. As many as 13 of the 19 winners to date have been English, Scottish, or Irish and even though a Frenchman took the title last time, six of the first nine home in 2019 were English.
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 three years ago but he's one of the shortest-priced winners we've had and outsiders have had a great record of late.
Perez was matched at 660.0659/1 before the off two years ago, Thorbjorn Olesen was matched at 270.0269/1 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 matched at 240.0239/1 before the off eight years ago, Branden Grace was getting on for a triple-figure price in 2012, and Michael Hoey was a huge outsider in 2011.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Victor Perez - tied for the lead 4.57/2
2018 - Lucas Bjerregaard tied 5th - trailing by four 22.021/1
2017 - Tyrrell Hatton - leading by five 1.211/5
2016 - Tyrrell Hatton - leading by three 2.01/1
2015 - Thorbjorn Olesen - leading by three 2.021/1
The first-round leader/leaders might be worth close scrutiny given three of the last 10 winners have been in front after round one and being up with the pace is usually key. Perez sat tied for second and just one off the lead after the opening round two years ago.
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 19 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.
Looking back, seven of the last nine winners and 11 of the 19 champions to date have been leading or tied for the lead with a round to go and three 54-hole leaders have been beaten in a playoff.
Being drawn at Carnoustie on Thursday has been a big plus recently, with four of the last seven 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 five years ago.
Being drawn there on day one has clearly been advantageous of late but the last three winners have all kicked off the event 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 change considerably before now and the off and even then, it can't be completely relied upon.
Shane Lowry is the shortest priced of the three European Ryder Cuppers but I'm not convinced he should be.
The 2019 Open Champion is making his 12th appearance in the Alfred Dunhill and he has only two top-tens to date. He was third in 2013 and sixth a year later and he hasn't been in sparkling form of late. His 11th at The Northern Trust in August and his 12th in the Open in July are very fair efforts but we have to go all the way back to the Memorial Tournament in June for his last top-10.
Like Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, Lowry must bounce back quickly after last week's disappointment at Whistling Straits and that has to be considered a negative for all three.
Fleetwood is a fine links exponent but he's getting increasingly frustrating to follow. Time and time again he gives up chances to win and that needs to be factored in. He traded at odds-on in his penultimate start, in the Italian Open, but having traded at 1.910/11 after back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 in round four, he made bogeys at 14 and 16 to open the door wide for the eventual winner, Nicolai Hojgaard.
That's a story that's been repeated many times on the European Tour (he traded at a low of 1.855/6 in this event in 2018) and since his successful Abu Dhabi Championship defence back in January 2018, Tommy's won just once (from off the pace at the Nedbank Golf Challenge two years ago) so he's not for me at less than 20/1.
Tyrrell Hatton is my idea of the best bet towards the head of the market and I've backed him at 21.020/1. Having won the tournament back-to-back in 2016 and '17, Hatton traded at a low of 1.111/9 when he sauntered five strokes clear of the field on the front-nine in round four in 2018. He was bidding to win it a third time but his challenge unravelled badly on the back-nine.
Hatton finished only 15th two years ago but it's patently obvious that he's a perfect fit for the tournament and a bold showing is likely despite his poor current form.
Billy Horschel is a very interesting contender given he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last time out and that he's won back-to-back FedEx Cup events in the past (2014).
This is the American's first appearance in the event and his Open Championship record isn't spectacular. He's played in the event eight times, and he's only made the weekend twice. His tied 30th in 2015 is his best result to date and that's off-putting.
Sweden's Alex Noren, who has event form figures reading 45-48-MC-17-39-3-40-11-15, arrives in Scotland in fine fettle but he hasn't won in more than three years.
I was happy to chance Tyrrell Hatton at 21.020/1 and if he drifts before the off, I'll back Branden Grace again.
He played quite well last time out at the Dutch Open after a slow start when I backed him and he won this event back in 2012 but whether 30.029/1 is a value price is debatable.
Tyrrell Hatton @ 21.020/1
I'll be back shortly with my Sanderson Farms Championship preview.
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