Many of the pros are calling this the perfect preparation for next week’s Open Championship which is exactly what it is. Held at Castle Stuart Golf Links, it will be a week for the shot makers out there with wide undulating fairways and large greens. Course management is always going to be crucial and knowing how to bounce back from those inevitable bogeys is big. The course will be playing 7,050 yards, so it’s a short track.
This is definitely one of the flagship events on The European Tour, with American cult hero Phil Mickelson making the trip across the pond to hone his skills for next week at Muirfield. (Our Preview 2 will be with you tomorrow!) The Scottish Open is going to become the first European Tour event to get regular coverage in America, with a deal struck with NBC to show around six hours of live coverage on the final two days, as well as highlights of the first two. Definitely a step in the right direction for a tour many think is flailing.
At Castle Stuart emphasis is heavy on scrambling and you need to be coming into this week with a good short game. We say it every week, but GIR will be vital as the more chances you give yourself on these tough greens, the better. Driving accuracy will not be as crucial (Jeev Milkha Singh ranked 52nd on the way to his win last year) but straight drives will breed confidence on any links course. Anyone who putts well over the four days will be in with a shout.
Pretty much all bookmakers are paying 6 places this week, so be sure to take advantage.
Henrik Stenson (20/1 Various)
The Swede is one many will fancy not just for this week but for the Open as well. He has the perfect game for links golf and has shown that with 3 top 5 finishes on links courses in the last few years. He’s still regarded as one of the top golfers around and he is definitely due a win. Stenson finished T8 here last year, just 3 shots off the lead and ranked 10th in putts per round. We can confidently say Henrik is in much better shape coming into this and could arguably run away with it if his ‘A’ game turns up. His last appearance on the European Tour saw a very respectable T10 at the BMW Open where he ranked 2nd in GIR and 7th in driving accuracy. But his form at the moment can be summed up by his quite outrageous statistics from the PGA Tour. 6th in driving accuracy, 3rd GIR, 18th scoring average, 3rd total driving and 2nd in ball striking. And it’s not bad on the European Tour either… 9th GIR, 14th driving distance and 18th stroke average. Now the ONLY thing that could let the Swede down this week is the putter. It is the only reason he hasn’t won this year, but fortunes have to change at some point. And his consistent putting here in 2012 is enough to suggest he can rekindle that spark on the greens.
Soren Kjeldsen (66/1 Various)
Other than Mr McDowell last week, one man who really caught our eye was Kjeldsen. He was always in there with a shout and played some outstanding stuff on the Sunday, just a poor few holes on back 9 cost him a six-figure pay-out. But his game is right there at the moment, going from 68th three weeks ago, to 18th in Ireland and then his top 10 in France. When you combine that with his 5th place last year, we can’t help but be impressed. Last year Soren was 1st in driving accuracy, 8th in GIR and 21st putts per round. It’s hard to see how he didn’t win playing that well! But he will take confidence from that and also the fact he is consistent across the board statistically on the tour this year. The Dane also ranked 6th in both driving accuracy and GIR last week, so if it’s shot makers you want, Kjeldsen is your man. Will need the putter to get hot but we can definitely see it happening with every other aspect of his game in great shape.
Alexander Noren (40/1 Coral)
It seems at this time in the season we are backing so many players two or even three weeks in a row. But Noren fits the bill perfectly this week so we’re willing to brush last week’s missed cut under the DownThe18th carpet. Before last week, the Swede had been in superb form recording back-to-back 4th place finishes. His game was right there but just didn’t go that step further and grab the win. This week Alex is coming onto a course where he recorded a T3 finish last year, and that will be firmly in his mind. The missed cut last week will have given him an extra few days to really fine tune his links course skills. Amazingly last year he only ranked 62nd in accuracy off the tee at Castle Stuart, but his putter was working overtime. The Swede was 5th in putts per GIR and 8th putts per round. And if there is one part of his game that we have really enjoyed of late, it is his putting. So that is a lethal combination. We have highlighted scrambling as key, and Noren ranks 9th for 2013, as well as 4th stroke average, 9th putts per GIR, 10th putts per round and 15th sand saves! He’s playing as good as ever and we don’t see why he can’t at least go close.
Simon Dyson (66/1 Various)
We’ll get the puns out the way first. Dyson will be looking to clean up this week. We’re expecting him to blow away the field. Dyson will do a job on any surface. We could go on… but Simon Dyson is an infectious character who is a joy to watch out there, wearing his heart on his sleeve. And if anyone enjoys links golf, it’s this man. On links courses over the past few years, Dyson has 3 wins, 2 top 5’s and 6 top 10’s. And Dyson is a confidence player, one good performance will lead to another for him. His career has been in spells, winning two tournaments in ’06, two in ’09 and then again in ’11. So if history serves us right, he is due one in 2013. And he’s had two more than respectable finishes here at Castle Stuart finishing 29th and 25th. But like we say, Simon is a confidence player and he will be absolutely buzzing after his 5th place finish last week in France and will be looking to carry that into this week. He’s also well known for his shot making and course management, so we’re quietly confident about the Dyson this week.
Morten Orum Madsen (150/1 Ladbrokes)
This week has a VERY Scandinavian feel to it, something tells us they enjoy links golf over there. The man from Denmark and Thomas Bjorn’s home club is fast becoming one of our favourite players. But Madsen is definitely showing promise on links courses, which is why we really he like him this week. His recent finishes on them have been: T2 Madeira Islands Open, T51 Open de Espana (having been top 10 after the first day) and T11 Madeira Islands 2012. Now combine that with a 28th at Merion for the US Open and we have a player here who knows a lot about course management. Statistically he is 18th in driving accuracy and 22nd in distance, which is a deadly combination for links courses. His form is nothing to write home about but he’s not at these odds for no reason. Madsen is definitely someone who represents value for money this week in our opinion.