With just one week to go before the Open Championship, the European Tour heads to the east coast of Scotland for the middle leg of a glorious three-week stint of links golf. Read our man's in-depth Scottish Open preview here...
"Nothing prepares a golfer for a links tournament better than a links tournament the week before. Looking back, six of the last eight Open winners have warmed up in this event, and anyone that played last week at Ballyliffin will have an advantage over those that didn’t. Tournament specialist, Kuchar, who finished tied for fourth 12 months ago, was the only player in the top-eight that hadn’t teed it up at the Portstewart Links a week earlier."
The first two editions of the Scottish Open were in 1935 and 1936 but the third staging didn't occur until 1972 and two years later the tournament disappeared again. It's been an ever-present on the European Tour since 1986 though and it's now one of the Rolex Series events and one of the European Tour's richest tournaments.
The Scottish Open has preceded the Open Championship for many years and between 1996 and 2010 it was played at the parkland Loch Lomond course. That always struck me as a bit daft given the Open Championship is always played on a links course and that Scotland has some of the best links courses in the world. Common sense has now prevailed and for the last seven years the tournament has been staged on a traditional links set-up. This year we return to the 2015 venue - the Gullane Golf Club in East Lothian.
The Irish Open moved in the schedule last year so for the second year in-a-row the Scottish Open is the second leg of a three week stretch of links golf on the European Tour which culminates with the Open Championship next week.
The Championship Course, Gullane Golf Club, Gullane, East Lothian.
Par 70, 7,133 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 69.62
Nestled on the shores of the Firth of Forth, Gullane Golf Club was established in 1882 but golf has been played on the Gullane links for more than 350 years.
There are three courses at the club, imaginatively named No.1, No.2 and No.3. The Championship Course is a composite comprising of 16 holes from course No.1 and two holes from course No.2 and if the European Tour website is correct, the yardage is exactly the same as it was three years ago.
Stephen Gallacher only lives 40 minutes form the course and he plays it regularly. This is what he had to say about the venue before the off in 2015.
"It's a very straightforward course for a links course. There's only three blind shots, three or four blind tee shots, very small greens, well protected with bunkers. As all links courses are, it's element-dependent. I've seen it here where it can be one of the toughest tests possible, especially when you get up on the top of the hill at the flat, it can be very exposed. If it's a bit soft like it is just now and we don't get much wind, well, you're going to see birdies, which is not a bad thing I don't think."
Rickie Fowler came out on top three years ago after an exciting tight affair in windy conditions when he birdied three of the last four holes to win by a stroke at 12-under-par.
The flyover video below provides a good visualisation of the course.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 10:30 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello -13 (Playoff)
2016 - Alex Noren -14
2015 - Rickie Fowler -12
2014 - Justin Rose -16
2013 - Phil Mickelson - 17 (Playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Scottish Open?
The 2015 stats make for interesting reading. The first five home had an average Driving Distance ranking of 40.5 and an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 54.2 so what you do off the tee here appears completely irrelevant.
Eddie Pepperell, who finished tied for fourth, ranked tied eighth for Greens In Regulation but Fowler ranked only 59th and Raphael Jacquelin, who finished tied for second, ranked 71st! The average GIR ranking for the first six was 45.8 so accurate iron play wasn't the be all and end all either. Back in 2015, it was all about how you managed your game around the greens...
The first three home ranked fifth, first and second for Scrambling and Matt Kuchar, who finished alongside Jacquelin in second, was the only player in the top-nine not to putt really well. He only ranked 40th for Putting Average, the other eight ranked, in leaderboard order, sixth, first, fifth, tied ninth, 17th, second and tied ninth.
Is There an Angle In?
As always with a links tournament, previous links form is a huge plus, so the usual rules apply; look at form at this event over the last seven years, the 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2018 editions of the Irish Open, the Open Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship for clues. Links golf is quite unique and those events have all been staged on links courses.
Nothing prepares a golfer for a links tournament better than a links tournament the week before. Looking back, six of the last eight Open winners have warmed up in this event, and anyone that played last week at Ballyliffin will have an advantage over those that didn't. Tournament specialist, Kuchar, who finished tied for fourth 12 months ago, was the only player in the top-eight that hadn't teed it up at the Portstewart Links a week earlier.
Keep a close eye on the Open Championship market
Given that six of the last eight Open winners have warmed up for the tournament in this event, anyone that plays well here will shortened up dramatically for next week's major so if you fancy someone at Carnoustie that's playing here this week, make sure you're keeping an eye on how they're doing because their price will collapse if they perform well.
The 2016 Open winner, Henrik Stenson, was matched at 40.039/1 to win the Open while this event was in progress and he went off at around 25.024/1. The runner-up to Stenson, Phil Mickelson, was matched at 60.059/1 during the Scottish Open, before going off at 40.039/1 at Royal Troon, and those two had history...
In 2013, Mickelson was matched at 38.037/1 to win the Open before the Scottish Open started but he was down to 22.021/1 after winning it and Stenson, who stumbled late on in that renewal five years ago, saw his odds cut from 70.069/1 to 50.049/1 during this event before going on to finish runner-up to Lefty at Muirfield.
Fowler halved in price for the Open Championship when he won here three years ago.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Since the tournament switched to a links course, we've had six extremely high quality winners and only one shock result. Jeev Milkha Singh was an outsider back in 2012, when he beat the well-fancied Francesco Molinari in a playoff.
Last year's winner, Rafa Cabrera-Bello is officially the 25th best player on the planet and the 2016 winner, Alex Noren, is now the 14th best in the world. Former world number one, Luke Donald, was in-form and at the very top of his game when he won back in 2011. Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson are both major winners and the 2015 champ, Fowler, is arguably the best current player without a major. Singh wouldn't be described as straight out of the top drawer but he's still won 20 times worldwide and he's a former winner of the Volvo Masters at Valderrama so even though he was a big price, he has a very strong pedigree. And now that it's a Rolex Series event, the odds on another fancied winner appear to have been reduced considerably.
I'm banging the same drum as I struck last week and the week before but here's the list of the Rolex Series winners to date, together with their exchange price before the off. The theme is continuing unabated. Well-fancied and top-class players are winning Rolex Series event after Rolex Series event.
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren 22.021/1
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood 25.024/1
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm 18.017/1
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello 65.064/1
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose 9.28/1
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace 18.017/1
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm 14.013/1
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari 22.021/1
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen 130.0129/1
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren 19.5
Irish Open 2017 - Russell Knox 27.026/1
Being up with the pace is often the place to be at links venues. The courses tend to get faster and firmer as the week wares on and making up lost ground is never easy but looking back at the result here in 2015, a number of players made up plenty of ground.
Daniel Brooks led by three strokes at halfway so that needs to be taken in to account but the first six home all trailed by at least five strokes through 36 holes.
The 2015 champ, Rickie Fowler, heads the market but as he does week after week, he looks far too short again to me. He's a fabulous links exponent and he's in fair form. He missed the cut at the Players Championship but that's his only weekend off since he finished second to Patrick Reed in the US Masters. I suspect he'll be there or thereabouts but he just doesn't win often enough to be considered value at around 10/1.
Justin Rose would be my idea of the most likely winner. He appears to have sorted his putting woes and since winning the Fort Worth Invitational, he's finished sixth at the Memorial Tournament and 10th at the US Open.
His links form is very in-and-out but he won this title at Royal Aberdeen four years ago and he opened up his defence here with a pair of 66s. He sat tied for second at halfway but tumbled down the leaderboard to end the week in 74th place.
Patrick Reed has held his form quite well after his win at Augusta, He missed the cut last time out at the Travelers Championship but he shot 74 on day one, four days after finishing fourth in the US Open and he was far from the only player that contended at Shinnecock to struggle next time out. Reed's links form is decent enough but nothing more and I suspect he'll have his eyes firmly on next week's prize.
I wouldn't want to put anyone off last week's winner, Russell Knox. He was 10th here in 2015 and after he won the WGC- HSBC Champions in China in 2015 he was beaten in a playoff a week later at the OHL Classic in Mexico so he's already demonstrated that he can perform straight after a victory. And given he finished second to Alex Noren in France two weeks ago, he's clearly the form horse.
Given how important the Scrambling and Putting stats were three years ago I wanted to side with someone whose short game prowess has been in tip-top order of late, so I was quite happy to see the best player on current rankings is Open Champion specialist, Louis Oosthuizen.
The South African definitely doesn't win as often as he should but given his current run of form - fifth at the Fort Worth Invitational, 13th at the Memorial Tournament and 16th in the US Open - I thought he was very fairly priced at 36.035/1 given he's a links specialist extraordinaire and that he's no bigger than 25/1 on the High Street.
It's a negative that he didn't play in Ireland last week given seven of the top-eight last year did but that applies to almost all the market leaders (apart from Knox). In addition to Oosty, my each-way pick is Chris Wood, who finished second in France and 14th in Ireland and the remainder of my picks are all triple-figure priced Brits that were in Ireland last week.
I'll be back later with my John Deere Classic preview.
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