The returning Ryder Cup players will lead the narrative this week as they make the short journey over from Paris. Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Tony Fina head the market but with just 3 days to recover they all look vulnerable in the East Coast of Scotland. Koepka has the horrible spectator incident looming over him as well as the reported DJ fall-out and he will surely struggle to focus on the week’s golf. Fleetwood will do well to compose himself after the biggest weekend of his life while Hatton’s brain will surely be frazzled by Thursday as he arrives chasing a hat-trick of Dunhill titles. With his comfort levels in the format and his suitability to links courses he is undoubtedly the man to beat here but at 14/1 you would want everything to be in his favour and instead I’m looking further down the market. Finau has shown his links pedigree on both Open starts to date but without a win since 2016 he isn’t someone who finds it easy to get over the line. He too can be left out at the odds even if he does look nailed on to enjoy the test.
A test which really isn’t for everyone given the pro-am format and the slow, easy conditions that are in play which allow the celebrities and money men to enjoy their week of links golf. With the spot in the calendar being in October in Scotland we don’t see any of the hard and fast conditions that are prevalent at The Open. The pro-am nature means that 3 different links courses are in rotation and they play one round at each before a 3rd round cut and a final round at St. Andrews. The greens and fairways will be soft so trouble is even harder to find than usual at St Andrews and Kingsbarns with minimal run-out off the tee. Carnoustie is usually a little more difficult but even still it will need the wind to properly blow to prevent rounds in the 60s being the norm. It should be noted that there is a decent breeze forecast for most of the week though with gusts in the 30s on Thursday. The flags are very favourable too so with all that combined you can see why the winning score is usually in the 20s under par. St Andrews and Kingsbarns both have wide open fairways and plenty of drivable par 4s so power is very much a weapon this week. Ultimately though, it is all about making birdies however you can so aggressive iron play and a hot putter will be the order of the week in Fife and Angus. Proven ability in the wind and scrambling will also be of the utmost importance with the wind causing plenty of greens to be missed.
I’ve gone with a couple of my favourites again this week as I’m adamant I don’t want to miss out on their win and they should both relish the challenge. Given the record of home players however I’ve also added an Englishman.
I backed Ryan Fox here last year and followed him through a few holes at St. Andrews. He looked relaxed and his approaches off the links turf were effortless. He drove pin high on the 18th and pitched it up close for a birdie and an opening 68. I was pleased with his effort and expected him to push on. That didn’t happen as he struggled at Carnoustie and then shot what must have been nearly the worst round of the week at straight-forward Kingsbarns (75) to miss the cut. I’m going to give him a pass though as I don’t see Kingsbarns as anything but a perfect course for Fox. He has shown us his links pedigree the last two summers with top 10s at Gullane, Ballyliffin, Port Stewart and Dundonald Links. Dundonald in particular suggests his suitability to Kingsbarns as they are both Kyle Phillips designs and have some of the widest fairways you will see. St Andrews also sets up well for Fox’s power game and with the slower conditions he should be able to over power both the Old Course and Kingsbarns. He played four rounds at Carnoustie this summer and settled into it nicely shooting 74-71-71-70. While fairway conditions were very different that experience can only help for his second shot at the Dunhill. The forecast wind will be no problem for the New Zealander as he was brought up in such conditions and has shown his ball-striking capabilities throughout his brief time on Tour. Indeed he actually sits 6th in strokes gained: tee to green this season with the only men above him being McIlroy, Molinari, Fleetwood, Rahm and Westwood. The slower greens should help someone who isn’t always the best of putters. He is an excellent scrambler though and the softer greens mean he can be aggressive with his chipping and hopefully leave himself more 4ft par saves than the 8ft that we have seen him with in summer conditions.
He is a massive 66/1 this week and for someone who keeps the company he does tee-to-green I think he has to be backed again. I expect him to win sooner or later and there is a good chance that when he does it will be on a links course.
My other regular pick this year has been Erik Van Rooyen and he has again slipped to a backable price as the bookies seem to have forgotten the links pedigree he showed in the summer. EVR finished 4th at Ballyliffin in July before a 64 around Gullane couldn’t quite help him make the -4 cut. He then contended for 3 rounds in his debut major at Carnoustie the following week. He is another excellent ball-striker who often appears to control his golf ball as well as anyone on the European Tour and he has shown that his swing stands up in the wind. EVR was brought up in Cape Town where the bulk of his formative golf will have been played in blustery conditions. Van Rooyen often lets himself down with the putter from inside 10ft but the slower greens that we see in the Dunhill should help him massively in that respect. He is a decent lag-putter and his scrambling has improved a lot as the year has gone on. It is hard to believe that this is his rookie season and I’m sure he will be looking to finish it strongly and consolidate his position inside the top 60. He is 34th at the moment and I honestly feel once he does get his win we won’t see prices like 50/1 around even in rather strong fields like this.
Ross Fisher has finished runner-up to Tyrrell Hatton the last two years in relatively benign conditions by Scotland’s standards. But Fisher has always been a great wind player so with the life-changing week Hatton has had I simply have to back Fisher here at 45/1 incase he is too good for the rest of the field again. He hasn’t been in great form but that was also the case last year. I followed him for the bulk of his round as he was paired with my man George Coetzee. Fisher was very poor and could only shoot a 71 but this was largely down to some terrible lag putting. He returned to St Andrews on Sunday and knowing the pace of the greens he went on to shoot a course record 61. Fisher loves this set-up where the slower greens allow him to contend as he can come unstuck on the slick summer surfaces at The Open. His ability in the wind could help him pull away from the pack even more this year and he has to be backed at a similar price to last year.
Marcus Kinhult hasn’t done much yet on a British links course on the European Tour but his best 3 finishes in his rookie year tell me that it is just a matter of time. He was 3rd at the Qatar Masters, 5th at Le Golf National and 4th last time out at the Portugal Masters. All 3 events have long been a good indicator of links form in particular Qatar and Portugal where there are a host of winners who have doubled up in Scotland. Both courses have plenty room off the tee and are exposed so that suggests Kinhult is a decent wind player. Hailing from Sweden that makes a lot of sense and he does have a little form in Scotland where he finished 5th on the Challenge Tour at the exposed inland links at Aviemore.
Arriving off the back of his 4th place finish in Portugal he will be relishing the chance to play again in conditions that should suit. A nice each way price at 100/1 with Betfair’s 7 places.
Ryan Fox – 1pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Erik Van Rooyen – 1pt ew 50/1 (1/5 odds 8 places)
Ross Fisher – 0.75pt ew @ 45/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Marcus Kinhult – 0.75pt @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Weekly points advised = 7pts
European Tour Results 2018
Points advised = 142
Points returned = 137.7