With the third major of the year, The Open, just a week away, it’s no surprise to see a stacked field for this traditional Claret Jug tune-up: the Scottish Open.
Castle Stuart Links in Inverness will host the event for the first time since 2013, when Phil Mickelson held off a spirited charge from then-rookie Branden Grace to capture the title. If omens are your thing, Lefty then went on to lift the Claret Jug seven days later….a spooky betting angle in for The Open.
Mickelson is here for another crack at Links golf north of the border, and he has been joined by the likes of his 2013 nemesis Grace, recent BMW International Open winner Henrik Stenson, Links specialist Shane Lowry, two-time major winner Martin Kaymer and many more. We look set for a fantastic four days in the Scottish Highlands.
Castle Stuart Links
Golf in the Highlands of Scotland guarantees a number of things: wind, drizzle, stunning views and outstanding conditions in which to enjoy the sport. Typically the test is a tough one, although the last three winning scores at Castle Stuart – -19, -17 and -17 – suggest otherwise.
Many that have played this stretch have remarked on its unique set-up: it is easy to get the ball from tee to the proximity of the dancefloor, but a decent short game is required to get the ball close on these bumpy greens. That claim is perhaps backed by the identity of two previous winners here in Mickelson and Luke Donald.
This is a short Par 72 at around 7200 yards, but clever course design means that the stretch is likely to be overpowered by the modern day banger. Instead, a good feel around the greens is essential – as the Greens in Regulation stats testify from 2013, where both Mickelson and Grace ranked in the top ten. That said, length is key when discussing the four Par 5s available, which the aforementioned pair played in -17 in ’13. If anything holds the key to victory, it is that.
Henrik Stenson (8/1)
In truth, you could make strong claims for eight, nine or maybe even ten players in this field, and while they all have their plus points it is hard to ignore Stenson’s form in European Tour sanctioned events: he hasn’t finished outside the top ten in his last five appearances. We’re generally keen to avoid single digit hopes where possible, but the Swede’s credentials are first class.
The inclement weather can often turn coastal Links course events into a free for all, but happily other than a breezy opening on Thursday conditions should settle in time for the weekend. This is where Stenson will look to make his move.
A run of form in European Tour events reading 2-3-6-4-1 is outstanding, and over in America he has been impressive too, with top-30 returns at The Masters and the WGC Cadillac. The one blemish, missing the cut at the US Open, was swiftly forgotten when he won the BMW international Open a week later.
He’s had a fortnight off to enjoy the tenth European Tour win of his career, and should come here in good spirits with Royal Troon and The Open on the horizon. With a decent Links pedigree to his name, nobody is set up better than Stenson this week.
Nicolas Colsaerts (40/1 e/w)
The big hitting Belgian has been in fine form of late, and he appears to be edging closer to the third European Tour trophy of his career.
A run of six cuts made – which featured five top-25 finishes and a pair of thirds at the Nordea Masters and the Mauritius Open – was halted at the BMW International Open a fortnight ago, but Colsaerts returned to form with a flourish at the Open de France last week, where he briefly led before a slightly below par weekend poured cold water on his title hopes.
But he boasts the statistical make-up to go well here, ranking inside the top ten on tour for GIR, and if his putter catches fire then he will contend.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (60/1 e/w)
You might be surprised to learn that a player with a name as exotic as that tends to do well in the Scottish Highlands, but ‘Barn Rat’s’ game is naturally suited to the ups and downs of Links golf.
A winner of the Paul Lawrie Matchplay, and fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Links last year, here’s a guy who excels in Scotland. He finished 38th here in 2013 as a young 22-year-old, has a top-20 in The Masters to his name in the past couple of months, is a three-time tour event winner and arrives in Scotland on the back of a fifth place finish at the BMW International Open at the end of May.
The man from the Philippines is criminally under-priced this week, and we’re happy to take full advantage.