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...
"This is the third year in-a-row that the Scottish Open has followed the Irish Open played out on a links track and if the evidence of the first two years is anything to go by, it looks like an appearance at Lahinch last week is a massive plus."
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 schedule 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 eight years the tournament has been staged on a traditional links set-up. This year we visit a brand-new venue - the Renaissance Club in East Lothian.
The Irish Open moved in the schedule two years ago so for the third 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 at Portrush.
The Renaissance Club, Dirleton, North Berwick
Par 71, 7,136 yards
Situated next door to Muirfield and just two miles away from last year's venue, Gullane, and with an almost identical yardage to Gullane, the Tom Doak-designed Renaissance Club only opened as recently as 2008.
Changes were made to the course just five years later when a land swap with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers enabled three new holes to be constructed (9, 10 & 11) - connecting the course to the coastline and the par four 10th hole (as you'll see in the clip below), along the edge of the cliffs and high above the Firth of Forth, is spectacular.
The Club's website states that: "Very little earth was moved in the construction of the course. The design embraced the original dunes landscape, typical of true links golf. Tom Doak and his team incorporated these contours into the course while leaving certain significant trees to enhance the beauty and challenges of play. The course has a truly distinctive style; windswept and open dunes land with trees coming into play on a truly coastal links course in Scotland."
The Renaissance Club was the venue for the 54-hole Scottish Senior Open in 2017, won by Paul Broadhurst in 13-under-par.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 10:30 on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2018 - Brandon Stone -20
2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello -13 (Playoff)
2016 - Alex Noren -14
2015 - Rickie Fowler -12
2014 - Justin Rose -16
What Will it Take to Win the Scottish Open?
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, 2018 and 2019 editions of the Irish Open, this year's British Masters from Hillside Links, 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.
Is There an Angle In?
Nothing prepares a golfer for a links tournament better than a links tournament the week before and now that the Irish Open precedes this event on a links track, we've got a very obvious angle-in.
This is the third year in-a-row that the Scottish has followed the Irish played out on a links track and if the evidence of the first two years is anything to go by, it looks like an appearance at Lahinch last week will be a massive plus.
We have to go back to 2017 for the first time the Irish and the Scottish were played subsequently on links tracks and American, Matt Kuchar, who finished fourth, was the only player in the top-eight in Scotland that hadn't played in Ireland the week before. It was a very similar tale last time around too.
Of the 66 players to make the cut in Scotland, the English trio of Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter; classy young Australian Cameron Smith; top-class Americans, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Luke List and low-ranking Scots, Jamie McLeary and Duncan Stewart, were the only players that hadn't been in Ireland the week before. The English lads are very familiar with links golf and are all winners, the US players are all top-drawer too and I assume the two Scots knew the venue, or at the very least had plenty of links experience. It's definitely something to bear in mind this week.
A warm-up the week before on a links track looks a huge plus and it doesn't seem to matter whether you made the cut or not. Plenty of players improved considerably on their endeavours in Ireland last year, including the eventual runner-up, Eddie Pepperell, who had enjoyed a weekend off after a poor first two rounds in the Irish.
This makes for a particularly good angle-in given the first five in the betting didn't play at Lahinch.
Keep a close eye on the Open Championship market
Given that six of the last nine 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 Royal Portrush 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 this event and Stenson, who stumbled late on in that renewal six 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 the Scottish four years ago.
Is it Business as Usual in the Rolex Series?
Since this tournament switched to a links course, we've had six extremely high-quality winners and two big shocks. Jeev Milkha Singh was an outsider back in 2012, when he beat the well-fancied Francesco Molinari in a playoff, and Brandon Stone was matched at 1000.0 before the off 12 months ago but the other six really were straight out of the top drawer.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello was hopeless when he hit the front in Ireland last week but he's an incredible talent and he won this two years ago from off the pace. Alex Noren, the 2016 winner, has won ten times on the European Tour, 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, Rickie Fowler, is arguably still 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 although a huge price and woefully out of form, last year's success was Stone's third on the European Tour in the space of just two years.
It's hard to be too dogmatic about it though - had Callum Shinkwin not made a complete mess of the final hole two years ago we'd be coming into this year's renewal wondering whether we'll get a third huge outsider winning in-a-row. And the list of Rolex Series winners is just as confusing.
It looked for a long time as though concentrating on the top-class players was the way to go in these Rolex Series events, until Stone came along and clouded the water. Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Shane Lowry have all won at reasonably big prices since Stone won this a year ago but those three were sandwiched by two winning favourites.
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 2018 - Russell Knox 27.026/1
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone 1000.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose 5.85/1
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood 55.054/1
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett 150.0149/1
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry 90.089/1
Irish Open 2009 - Jon Rahm 10.09/1
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 Noren was always in the van throughout when he won three years ago but we've seen a number of winners from off the pace in this event of late, regardless of venue.
The last two winners were seven adrift at halfway, Fowler trailed by five four years ago at that stage and both Mickelson and Singh trailed by four through 36 holes. Noren and Justin Rose (in 2014) are the only two third round leaders to go on to win in the last seven years and when Donald won the 54-hole edition at the Castle Stewart Golf Links in 2011, he was one off the lead in a tie for fifth with a round to go.
After 11 straight appearances in the Irish Open (the last four sponsored by the Rory McIlroy Foundation), Rory McIlroy took the difficult decision to miss last week's renewal at Lahinch, presumably favouring this event as the more ideal warm-up for next week's Open Championship at Royal Portrush - a course he knows intimately.
Some players will line up in next week's major having played both the Irish and the Scottish but some would say that is overdoing it and it's clearly a line of thinking that Rory subscribes to. It must have been a big sacrifice to not play in the Irish, especially considering last week's set-up is more similar to Portrush than this week's, but I think he's made the right decision.
Merely playing in the Irish Open for Rory is a chaotic experience, let alone considering the extra responsibility that comes with sponsoring the event, and the proximity of the Open Championship at his home course. Swerving the hullabaloo on Lahinch in favour of a more serene prep makes an awful lot of success.
Rory arrives in decent form having won two of his last eight tournaments and he has to have a fabulous chance of making it three from nine. He won the Canadian Open the week before finishing ninth last time out in the US Open but I don't think he'll worry about peaking too soon if he wins here. He sandwiched the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in-between major wins at the Open Championship and the USPGA Championship in 2014 so there'll be no holding back if he gets in-the-mix.
A fairly benign weather forecast looks in his favour and he's one of the best links exponents in the world so the venue's not an issue either. He's a fair price at anywhere around 8.07/1.
The 2015 winner, Rickie Fowler, is another superb links performer but I'd be keener on him if the forecast was poorer and he hasn't been at his best in a while now.
With two wins already in the bag this season, in Mexico and Hawaii, and with current figures reading 2-7-12-2-8-MC-4-16, Matt Kuchar's form is holding up far better than his reputation and he too is a terrific links player. He ran Jordan Spieth mighty close in the Open Championship at Birkdale two years ago. He finished second to Rickie in this event four years ago and he was fourth in 2017 but he uncharacteristically missed the cut 12 months ago. Price looks about right.
Justin Thomas has played this event twice - finishing 53rd in 2016 and missing the cut 12 months ago. He's struggling to get back to his best after injury and looks like one to swerve this week.
Henrik Stenson has contended in this event but never won it but he's been in fair form of late and Matt Wallace will expect to perform considerably better than he did last week. He finished a disappointing 55th at Lahinch having finished third in Germany in his penultimate start.
I've backed Rory at 7/1 with the Sportsbook and 8.27/1 on the exchange. He should get plenty of TV coverage and I can monitor my position easily enough in-play. I can see him enjoying himself here ahead of next week's massive event and I wanted him onside from the start.
My only other pick so far is last week's runner-up, Bernd Wiesberger. Last week's effort gets him into the field next week and this will feel like a free hit now. He's playing some quite spectacular golf but struggling on the greens. Fingers crossed he can putt a bit better this week because the rest of his game is in perfect working order.
I may add one or two more before the off and if I do, I'll tweet them.
*Now added both Andy Sullivan and my each-way pick, Lucas Bjerregaard.
Rory McIlroy @ 8.27/1
Bernd Wiesberger @ 40.039/1
Andy Sullivan @ 60.059/1
Lucas Bjerregaard @ 160.0159/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my John Deere Classic preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter