Steve takes an in-depth look at this week's European Tour action, where picks are thin on the ground. How will the Ryder Cuppers fare in the year's only Euro pro-am and what will it take to win on the Scottish links this week?
“I’m convinced Graham DeLaet has a big future in the game and I see that he’s been holidaying in Ireland since his FedEx Cup Playoffs exit. I’m taking a huge leap of faith that he can take to links golf but he’s a massive price for a player of his talent.”
This will be just the 12th staging of the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Race to Dubai's (mercifully) only pro-am.
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
Stroke index in 2011 - 70.84
'The Old Lady' is a course every golfer wants to play. It hosts the Open Championship every five years (the last time was 2010), is universally regarded as 'the home of golf' and, like all links courses, plays very differently depending on the weather. The 17th, 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 three 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.
Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Par 72, 7,412 yards
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 playoff but it's best remembered as the venue where Jean Van De Velde lost the plot in 1999 when on the 72nd hole he lost a three-shot lead after finding the Barry Burn. Paul Lawrie went on to win. Carnoustie is also famous for its treacherous pot bunkers and it's the toughest of the three venues faced this week.
Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Par 72, 7,150 yards
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.
Live on Sky, 1.30pm for the first three days and then 12.20pm on Sunday.
Last Five Winners
2011 - Michael Hoey -22
2010 - Martin Kaymer -17
2009 - Simon Dyson - 20
2008 - Robert Karlsson -10 (playoff)
2007 - Nick Dougherty -18
Is there an identikit winner?
Home advantage appears to be huge at this event. Nine of the 11 winners to date have come from GB and Ireland and the only two from outside the British Isles, Martin Kaymer and Robert Karlsson, were both in great form when they won. Both went on to win the European Order of Merit in the year that they claimed this title.
Links golf is a unique test and the fact that the Brits play it growing up is clearly advantageous. Last year's winner, Michael Hoey, had plenty of links form and was a multiple tour winner but he was an unusually big-priced winner of the event. Presumably for the convenience of the TV crews, the main protagonists all get the same rotation of courses, playing St Andrews on Saturday. Consecutive rounds at the same course is a big advantage and it will be no surprise if fancied runners are playing out the finish again on Sunday.
Look to players that have played well at the tougher Carnoustie. It may be the case that the market doesn't fully factor in that someone on the leaderboard has gotten the tough teat out of the way.
Keep a very close eye on the weather forecast. At the moment, the forecast doesn't look too bad but Saturday definitely looks the toughest day. The draw hadn't been made at the time of writing but anyone playing Carnoustie in round three may be at a disadvantage.
Up with the pace is the way to go at the Dunhill. All bar two winners have been within four of the lead after day one.
Ryder Cup factor
Anyone involved at Medinah must surely be drained. The party afterwards would have been lengthy and large and, rightly or wrongly, I've decided to swerve all the Ryder Cuppers from the get-go. Even if they get to Scotland in relatively good order, the attention they'll get all week long will, in all likelihood, be too demanding for them to give their best this week.
Louis Oosthuizen heads the market and rightly so. He absolutely dotted up at St Andrews in the 2010 Open Championship and finished in the top-five in this event last year, despite not playing anywhere near to his best. He ran Rory McIlroy close in the Deutsche Championship, a week after finishing in top-five at The Barclays but didn't perform brilliantly in his last two events - the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship and for that reason, after much deliberation, I'm leaving him out from the start.
Second favourite, Dustin Johnson, is a fine links player and can't be readily dismissed. Being on the losing US team will mean he hasn't had any celebrating to do but I'd be surprised if he's fresh enough to do himself justice, especially as he also went all the way in the FedEx Cup Playoff series.
Padraig Harrington loves this event and is very well suited to it but his form is regressive. Having failed, unsurprisingly, to make the Ryder Cup team, he'll be fresh with something to prove but his price is no great shakes given his form and he too is easy to overlook.
As well as Oosthuizen, Paul Lawrie, Ernie Els, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Thorbjorn Olesen were all also carefully considered but in the end I've decided to take it very easy from the off and concentrate my efforts in-running.
The first of my three outrageously priced outsiders is Canadian US Tour player Graham DeLaet. I'm convinced Graham has a big future in the game and I see that he's been holidaying in Ireland since his FedEx Cup Playoffs exit. I'm taking a huge leap of faith that he can take to links golf but he's a massive price for a player of his talent and if he's been familiarising himself with links golf in the Emerald Isle he might just be a factor.
James Morrison is another regular play at a big price and yet again he looks over-priced this week. And my only other pre-event pick is local lad George Murray, who surprised a lot of people last year when he finished third.
Graham DeLaet @ an average of [180.0]
James Morrison @ [230.0]
George Murray @ an average [540.0]
I'll be back later today or tomorrow with a preview of the week's other event, the JT Shriners Open.