Birdiefest expected at the home of golf
Brits have a great record
Kingsbarns not the place to be on Thursday
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is the DP World Tour's only pro-am. It's only been in existence since 2001 but it feels like an established tradition, and this will be the 22nd 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 last year's Open Championship venue, St Andrews, for a second time on Sunday.
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 2022 - 71.94
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 six 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 making par there is always acceptable. It averaged 4.49 last year.
The back-nine is tougher than the front-nine and the toughest stretch on the course is between holes 11 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 2022 - 73.41
Carnoustie has been used for the Open Championship eight times and was the scene of Francesco Molinari's magnificent triumph five years ago. On the previous occasion, in 2007, Padraig Harrington edged out Sergio Garcia in a play-off.
It's best remembered, however, as the venue where Jean van de Velde lost the plot in 1999. 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. It's the toughest of the three venues faced 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 six years ago.
The finish is tough. Holes 17 and 18 were the two toughest on the course in 2021. The last four holes 12 months ago ranked third, 14th, four and first, although the par four 18th, which averaged 4.44, ranked equal first with the par five sixth, which averaged 5.44.
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 2022 - 71.54
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 with a round of 60 at Kingsbarns.
The greens at Kingsbarns usually run at around 9.5 on the stimpmeter.
Live on Sky Sports all four day. Starting at midday on Thursday
Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices
- 2022 - Ryan Fox -15 80.079/1
- 2021 - Danny Willett -18 120.0119/1
- 2020 - Event Cancelled
- 2019 - Victor Perez -22 460.0459/1
- 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
- 2014 - Oliver Wilson -17 1000.0999/1
What Will it Take to Win?
Last year's winner, Ryan Fox, drove the ball nicely, ranking seventh for Driving Distance, 13th for Driving Accuracy and fifth for Strokes Gained: Off the Tee but what you do off the tee here is usually irrelevant. Finding greens is nearly always important though.
The shock 2014 winner, Oliver Wilson, ranked in the 60s for Greens In Regulation but that was unusually high and 10 of the last 11 winners have ranked inside the top-10 for GIR. Fox ranked ninth 12 months ago but the three winners before him - Danny Willett, Victor Perez, and Lucas Bjerregaard - all ranked third.
As many as nine of the last 14 winners have ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring. Fox ranked first last year and four of the last five winners have topped the Par 4 Scoring rankings for the week.
Given how easily the courses are set up, to accommodate the amateurs in the field, those who contend make lots and lots of birdies.
Fox made more than anyone else, as did Perez four years ago, and the Frenchman was the fourth winner in five years to do so.
Unless the weather is poor, this is nearly always a birdie-fest, where going low is essential.
Is There an Angle In?
The shock 2019 winner, Victor 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 DP World 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, as well as the last two champs - Fox and Danny Willett - have all been renowned links players.
Look closely at the results of the Irish Open whenever that's been staged at a links venue, the last 13 editions of the Scottish Open, and, of course, the Open Championship, for clues.
Previous tournament form has counted for plenty here too. Even though they were all outsiders, matched at triple-figure prices, the 2021 winner, Willett, and 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 an advantage and an incredibly good event record. As many as 14 of the 21 winners to date have been English, Scottish, or Irish. When he took the title two years ago, Willett became the seventh different Englishman to win.
Fox is a New Zealander, 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 five years ago but he's one of the shortest-priced winners and outsiders have had a great record of late.
Although generally an 80.079/1 chance, Fox was matched at 95.094/1 before the off last year and despite his obvious claims, because he hadn't had a top-10 all year, mainly down to injury and illness, Willett was matched at a high of 150.0149/1 before the off in 2021.
Perez was matched at a high of 660.0659/1 four 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 1000.0999/1.
David Howell was matched at 240.0239/1 before the off 10 years ago, Branden Grace was getting on for a triple-figure 11 years ago, and Michael Hoey was a huge outsider in 2011.
Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round Four
- 2022 - Ryan Fox - T2nd, trailing by four 8.07/1
- 2021 - Danny Willett - leading by three 2.6613/8
- 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
It's really difficult to make up ground in this event and, after 21 renewals, we've witnessed just three winners trailing by more than four strokes after round one - Paul Lawrie in 2001, Stephen Gallagher in 2004, and last year's champ, Fox.
Having led by four strokes through 54 holes, Richard Mansell shot 76 in round four last year to finish seventh. Eight of the previous 10 winners and 12 of the first 20 champions, however, were leading or tied for the lead with a round to go and three 54-hole leaders have been beaten in a playoff so third round leaders have a strong record.
Being drawn at Carnoustie on Thursday used to be advantageous and five of the last nine winners all began the week there. But things have changed a bit of late.
Willett started off at Carnoustie two years ago but the three winners before him all kicked off the event at St Andrews and so did Fox 12 months ago.
Playing the toughest course on day one (Carnoustie) 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.
I'll be back later today or tomorrow with a look at the market leaders and a summary of any pre-event selections.
Ryder Cuppers Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick dominate the market and if the 2018 edition of this event is any sort of gauge, we should probably expect them both to figure.
Lucas Bjerregaard won the 2018 renewal, but Fleetwood finished tied for second alongside Tyrell Hatton and the English pair had both played in the European Ryder Cup team that had pulverised the Americans 17 ½ - 10 ½ the week before in Paris.
It's easy to jump to the conclusion that the celebrations would hinder their performances so soon after their success, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Winning the Ryder Cup is clearly a huge shot in the arm.
Fleetwood is a fine links exponent with event form figures reading 5-55-2-13-15-25-2-7-22 so this is an event he'd like to add to the CV but as always with Tommy, he's not the most reliable in contention so I'm more than happy to swerve him.
Fitzpatrick has finished second in a Scottish Open but his Open Championship form is patchy and he's missed the cut on three of the five occasions he's played in this event so he doesn't have a stunning array of links form.
The recent Wentworth winner and defending champ, Ryan Fox, is next up and he's highly likely to bounce back after his missed cut in the Open de France last time out.
Fox is looking to emulate Hatton and win it back-to-back and to become the third man to take the title twice. Padraig Harrington won in 2002 and 2006.
LIV Tour rebel, Talor Gooch, who's won on the controversial Tour three times already, is playing nicely but he missed the cut on his only previous appearance 12 months ago and I'm happy to leave him out before the off too.
Ryder Cuppers set to shine
Although he didn't make the team this time around, Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, who won this event in 2015, may well be inspired by rekindled memories of his 5&4 thrashing of Jordan Spieth in Paris and he arrives in Scotland in fair form having finished 10th at the Open de France last time out, where he ranked sixth for Greens In Regulation.
He hasn't played well in this event since he won it but up until the last 18 months or so he hadn't been played very well anywhere and he was also second here back in 2012.
I was happy to chance him modestly at 46.045/1.
My only other pick is Scotland's Robert MacIntyre, who was unbeaten in Rome last week.
He was also a very unlucky loser at the Scottish Open in July, so we know he's a fine links exponent and I thought he was overpriced at around the 50/151.00 mark.
He has underwhelming event form figures reading 26-MC-34-20 and we haven't had a Scottish winner since 2005 but we're probably due one.
Paul Lawrie won the inaugural staging in 2001 and Stephen Gallacher and Colin Montgomerie won the fourth and fifth editions in 2004 and 2005.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter