Following on from an absolutely fantastic host course for the Irish Open we have another out-and-out links test ahead of next week’s Open Championship. With the European Tour now having seemingly settled into having 3 weeks in a row of links golf we are really getting spoilt at this time of year. While the composite course at Gullane isn’t quite at the same level as Ballyliffin, it’s still impressive in its own right. It was last seen on Tour when it made its bow in 2015 as part of the rotation for this very tournament and it was links specialist Rickie Fowler that came out on top. I have played Gullane No. 1 course and on that day the wind was gusting in excess of 25mph but it was still a hugely enjoyable day. It is undoubtedly another proper links test and together with the No. 2 course they have managed to achieve a brilliant mix of holes that will keep the whole field honest this week.
Rickie Fowler returns to defend and his chance is accurately reflected by his odds of 10/1 as joint favourite. I’d just question whether he will really be looking to win this week or just post 4 good rounds under the radar in preparation for Carnoustie next week. In 2015 the week after he won at Gullane he found himself on the wrong side of the draw at St. Andrews and I think he could have done with the mental side of his game being fresher for the stop-start nature that they endured over the weekend. It’s hard to suggest that he won’t be trying to win but with even a slight doubt it makes the 10/1 look a little skinny and I’d rather back him at 20/1 next week as I see the Carnoustie test as absolutely perfect for him.
Ryan Fox has done very well for me in his short time on the European Tour and particularly last year when he went on a brilliant run at this very point in the schedule. He finished 6th in France, 4th in Ireland and then 4th in Scotland. Unfortunately his play-off loss last week will only have further telegraphed his love of links golf and therefore I didn’t think we would get the best of prices. However the presence of so many big names still gives us some 50/1 and with him in such good form I simply can’t pass it up. Last year his profile wasn’t quite big enough for the cameras to follow on every hole so we didn’t manage to get a full appreciation of his links ability despite those high finishes. That was different in Ireland as he led after Thursday so we saw most of his shots over the weekend. What was clear was his unrelenting strategy for the links course. He simply took driver on every hole where he saw his thundering 350 yard drive as an advantage over the field. He even commented to Tim Barter on the course about his plan and mentioned how driver completely took the penal bunkers out of play. He also noted how generally the big galleries meant that someone was probably going to find his ball should he veer too far off the fairway. Generally his driving was quite straight though and on so many of the par 4s he found himself with less than 100 yards left. He was then able to show off his prowess for links golf by playing a series of exquisite little bump and run pitches over the weekend. This left him with countless putts inside 15ft while the rest of the leaderboard were leaving themselves with 25-40 footers from having 150 yard approaches left. We normally associate having a strategy for a golf course with the neat and tidy, plodding sort of golfers but Fox proved that doesn’t always have to be the case. While Gullane perhaps feels a little tighter off the tee with more blind tee shots and dunes lining the fairways driving accuracy didn’t really matter too much in 2015. Fowler only hit 52% of his fairways (63rd in the field) while the two runner-ups only hit 57% and 50%. Indeed only one player in the top 10 actually ranked inside the top 30 for fairways hit. The 2015 edition actually became a bit of a putting contest and while Fox is a solid enough putter I’d expect him to be attacking the course again and getting his approaches closer to the hole than the majority of the field. On these big greens where 3-putts will be plentiful that could well be enough to contend again.
Ryan Fox simply enjoys a links test and while the cat is very much out of the bag now, he looks like a links winner in waiting and I’m going to continue to back him until his price reflects his links prowess.
Peter Uihlein’s form over the last few months is probably as good as 98% of this field so arriving off the back of a very solid 12th place in Ireland I think he is over priced here at 50/1. He has two 5th place finishes on the PGA Tour in the last 2 months and he has made his last 6 cuts. Uihlein has always been a decent links performer as long as he has a little room off the tee so I’m hoping the tee-shots fit his eye here a little more than in 2015 when he missed the cut by just one shot. Uihlein was runner-up at the Dunhill Links in 2013 and he really should have won at Castle Stuart in that same year. His only European Tour win to date is at the exposed Madeira Islands Open and one of his great strengths is still being able to hit a high number of greens even when the wind blows and the course runs hard and fast. Whether the short game behaves I don’t know but he looks to be one of the best pieces of value for me this week.
While it’s probably a little silly to expect things to pan out exactly like 2015, runner-up Raphael Jacquelin showed enough in his 10th place finish last week to suggest he should go well again. Throughout his career Jacquelin has been a consistent wind player largely down to his beautiful lazy swing that oozes rhythm. He flights the ball down well and will handle the 20mph winds again just like he did in 2015. He led the field in greens hit last week in Ireland and I think he looks worth siding with at huge 175/1. Just been cut to 125/1, still just about fair
Ryan Fox – 1pt ew @ 50/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Coral)
Peter Uihlein – 1pt ew @ 40/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Raphael Jacquelin – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)