The Scottish Open: Low-scoring links specialist Lowry the answer, says The Punter

Shane Lowry, one of The Punter's picks in Scotland

Our man takes a detailed look at this week's European Tour action from Scotland, where a stellar field assembles for the final warm-up event before the Open Championship. Read Steve's preview here...

“Shane Lowry played well last time out at the Irish Open where he handled the pressure of home expectation fairly well when finishing 5th. He ranks highly in both the par-breaker and birdie average stats and I can see him enjoying this week’s test. “

Tournament History
The Scottish Open has only been in existence since 1972 but it already has a chequered past. It disappeared off the schedule for 12 years after the 1973 edition and it was replaced on the European Tour schedule by the Loch Lomond World Invitational in 1997.

In 2001 it was decided that the Loch Lomond Invitational would be renamed the Scottish Open and that all previous editions would be granted Scottish Open status - which is why two winners are listed for 1996.

Loch Lomond was the event's permanent home right up until 2011 when it moved to Castle Stuart. The move came about because Loch Lomond was having financial problems but it was a logical move anyway.

Given the Scottish Open always precedes the year's biggest event, the Open Championship, which is always played on a links course, it was always a bit baffling that the tournament didn't use one of Scotland's many fine links courses as it's venue before 2011.

Venue
Castle Stuart Golf Links, Inverness, Scotland

Course Details
Par 72, 7193 yards
Stroke index in 2012 - 70.73

Castle Stuart is a classic links course that looks as though it's sat alongside the Moray Firth for decades but it actually only opened for business in 2009. As a par 72 under 7,200 yards with wide open fairways, in benign conditions, it's an easy test for Europe's best. Torrential rains caused havoc two years ago and the event was reduced to just 54 holes but Luke Donald was still able to reach -19!

After Donald's demolition job, four new bunkers were added to the 5th and 14th holes and the 9th, 12th and 15th were all lengthened but the course's only real defence is the weather.

Castle Stuart is set on two levels with seven holes on the lower level bordering the Moray Firth. The fairways and greens are all fescue grass and the greens are set to run at 10 on the stimpmeter.

Useful Sites
Course Site

Course Guide
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky all for days, starting at 10.30am on Thursday. Highlights on BBC.

Last Five Winners

2012 - Jeev Milkha Singh - 17 (Playoff)
2011 - Luke Donald -19 (54 holes)
2010 - Edoardo Molinari -16 (Loch Lomond)
2009 - Martin Kaymer -15 (Loch Lomond)
2008 - Graeme McDowell -13 (Loch Lomond)

What will it take to win the Scottish Open?
Everything depends on the weather around Castle Stuart. It's a very easy course if the wind doesn't blow and at this stage it doesn't look like it will. The winner will have to go low on all four days so look to those that can make bags and bags of birdies. Grinders like last week's winner, Graeme McDowell, who needs a sterner test to be seen at his best, aren't suited to this sort of putting contest and it's no surprise to see him miss this one out.

Stats-wise, given we've only had two renewals here there's not much to go on at all and what we do have isn't much use as both winners had conflicting stats.

Donald ranked 2nd for greens in regulation two years ago but Jeev Milkha Singh ranked just tied 36th for fairways hit. The Indian didn't rank especially highly for anything twelve months ago - 13th for driving distance and tied 2nd for par 5 performance were his stand-out stats but they were very different to Donald's. The Englishman ranked 2nd for par 4 performance and tied 8th for fairways hit.

Is there an angle in?

Singh came into the event quite badly out of form but he was very much the anomaly. The majority of those finishing high up on the leaderboard in both renewals came into the event in fine form and had he failed to beat Francesco Molinari in the playoff, we'd have had two short-priced, bang-in-form winners at Castle Stuart.

Is this a good guide for next week?
Now that it's played on a links layout, logic would suggest that this is an ideal warm-up for the Open Championship and I'm surprised how many contenders for next week's major miss this one out. Both the last two Open winners, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke, tuned-up their games here, finishing tied 52nd and tied 66th respectfully. So if you're looking for clues for Muirfield, if history is to repeat, look to someone that plays all four rounds but doesn't contend.

In-Play Tactics

If the breezes are as light as forecast and provided the course isn't running too firm and fast, this is going to be a birdie-fest. The winning score is going to be very low and making ground on the leaders is going to be very difficult indeed. Donald was never far away two years ago and Molinari led after rounds one, two and three before getting collared by Singh twelve months ago, and in all probability that wouldn't have happened had the weather not turned.

Although at the time of writing it's not forecast to be too bad, the wind is due to rise fractionally on Sunday but keep an eye on the forecast. There was carnage last year on day four when the weather changed for the worst, with the scores ranging between 67 and 80 and only half a dozen players broke 70. Singh's 67 was the joint beat round of the day and he was able to get into the playoff having trailed by fully five shots after round three.

Market Leaders
In-form links specialist, Ernie Els, heads what is a very competitive market. Having won the BMW International Open last time out, the Big Easy is bidding to claim back-to-back European Tour events, one week before he defends his Open Championship title but his course form (52nd last year and 25th in 2011) isn't fantastic and I suspect this week will once again be all about gearing up for next.

Phil Mickelson comes here off the back of a missed cut at the Greenbrier Classic but I would largely ignore that. It was his third straight weekend off at that event so he clearly isn't suited to the place but like Els, I suspect his mind will be on Muirfield and like Els, his course form isn't particularly inspiring either. He was 16th last year and 58th in 2011.

Henrik Stenson was 8th on his course debut last year and he's been in fine form of late but his putting has been a bit in-and-out. If he gets the blade running hot he'll be a big danger but that's a big if and I'm happy to look elsewhere.

Of the fancied runners, the one I like most is Paul Casey, who like Els, is also looking for back-to-back victories having won the Irish Open last time out. Casey is a fine links exponent who enjoys an easy test and with the confidence gained in Ireland, he could be a big danger.

Selections
As already stated, with benign conditions forecast I fancy a low-scoring affair and I fancy a fast start will be essential so I'm going to concentrate most of my efforts in-play. I shall be trying to get a few onside during and after round one and I'll take it from there but I have backed two before the off.

Shane Lowry played well last time out at the Irish Open where he handled the pressure of home expectation fairly well when finishing 5th. He topped the putting stats that week and if he putts well again here he should improve on last year's 11th. He ranks highly in both the par-breaker and birdie average stats and I can see him enjoying this week's test.

Having gained battleground promotion with three low-scoring victories on the Challenge Tour (the last of which in Scotland), young American Brooks Koepka then won the Open Championship qualifier at Sunningdale. It's asking an awful lot to expect him to win so soon on the European Tour but a birdie-fest looks right up his street and 100.099/1 was simply too big.

Selections:
Shane Lowry @ 44.043/1
Brooks Koepka @ 100.099/1

I'll be back tomorrow with my preview for the week's other event - the John Deere Classic.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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