Pro-am golf….it’s really not for everyone. In what is supposed to be a light-hearted tournament – albeit one with a total purse of $5,000,000 – the players can find themselves paired with anyone from Denise van Outen (wahey) to the unthinkable of spending six hours a day, for three days in a row, with Piers Morgan, which naturally would be enough for anybody to throw themselves off one of St Andrews’ legendary cliff-faces.
Golf is a sport where focus and concentration are essential; a momentary lapse can see an errant shot played, a shot dropped and the start of a potentially damaging run.
Which is why it is something of a surprise to see Rory McIlroy, the tournament jolly at 5/1, opt to tee up with his father. He did so in the team championship at the 2014 edition of the event, and a poor start would ultimately cost him a chance to win the title. We’re not convinced that playing with the old boy will do any favours to the Irishman’s hope of a first title in 2017 here.
It’s an event with a unique set up. For the opening three days the players will rotate between the three host courses – St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie – before the final 60 take their place in Sunday’s finale at the grandaddy of them all, St Andrews.
There’s team-based scoring, celebrities and amateurs running amok, and all-in-all a fun vibe despite the huge paycheque awaiting the winner. That’s why we tend to prefer players who have performed well in this format before: pro-am golf is not for everyone.
For some punters two of the courses may be familiar already. St Andrews and Carnoustie have hosted editions of the Open Championship in the past, and while the former is tameable when conditions suit, the latter can be quite a handful when the wind is up.
But respite comes in the form of Kingsbarns, another Links test but one which is slightly further inland. Rounds of 59 have been threatened here, with Branden Grace carding the course record of 60 in this tournament, and so this is where the eventual winner will surely make their move.
The Main Contenders
After showing some long overdue form at the British Masters last week in finishing second, McIlroy has been installed as a very short 5/1 favourite by the bookmakers. His Links form over the years is exceptional, but quite frankly with the unique format of the Alfred Dunhill he is simply unbackable at the price.
Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton are next up at around the 22/1 mark, but neither win enough events despite being blessed with immeasurable quality. The latter in particular will become a huge star in the game one day.
Tommy Fleetwood (25/1) boasts plenty of pedigree in this event but has just become a father for the first time, and you never quite know how that will work out for a player. Will he be inspired to perform by his new arrival, or be so out of practise that he can barely hit a fairway?
The one in this upper bracket who really appeals is Branden Grace, also at 25/1. He holds the course record at Kingsbarns, finished inside the top 20 at the 2015 Open Championship played at St Andrews, and earlier this year recorded the first ever round of 62 in a major on the links at Royal Birkdale on his way to a sixth place finish.
We probably would have wanted a longer price on him, in truth, but of those at the head of the market Grace holds the most appeal.
There are a whole bunch of longshots to consider this week and plenty hold appeal. Lest we forget that the 2014 winner of this event, Oliver Wilson, could be backed at 1000/1 prior to his victory!
The criteria for selection are simple enough: some kind of pedigree on Links golf courses, and a bit of current form to work with.
That identifies three worth following straight off the bat. Matthew Southgate (125/1) finished sixth at the Open Championship after finishing second at the Irish Open just prior to that. He has been off in America recently trying to secure a PGA Tour card, and compiled a fifth place finish in the Boise Open across the pond.
Austin Connelly (125/1) was outstanding at the Open Championship in the summer, finishing 14th after rounds of 66 and 67, and he followed that up recently with second at the KLM open.
And what about the 200/1 about Ashley Chesters? He burst onto the scene by finishing 12th at the Open at St Andrews in 2015, and he was second after 36 holes at the British Masters last week.