How will Ryder Cup winners Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton fare in the Dunhill Links? Don’t miss Ben Coley’s in-depth betting preview and each-way selections.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is not for everyone and does not make for great viewing, unless, that is, you like the idea of seeing Piers Morgan shank a golf ball onto Old Station Road. Hang on a second…
Still, this celebrity love-in, a pro-am event with three courses in operation until the final 18 takes place at St Andrews, does slot in nicely as a post-Ryder Cup return to earth.
For those directly involved with last week’s thumping win for Europe, this would be a week off but for the chance to do something a little different in an event which also happens to boast an enormous prize fund. For others, the serious business of earning enough money to continue on the European Tour next season can balance well with the slow, relaxed rounds in the company of famous or at the very least successful people.
Tyrrell Hatton belongs in the former category, of course, but credits playing partner Jamie Dornan for helping him turn a miserable record in the event into a career-changing one, his wins here in 2016 and 2017 key signposts on the road to Paris last week.
This year, there are also members of the vanquished American Ryder Cup side in the field, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, which adds a complication.
Koepka would look a knocking bet here at a similar price to that which he started the elite-field TOUR Championship under what you might call normal circumstances. Yet these are not normal circumstances: rumours swirl of a bust-up with Dustin Johnson last week, where he under-performed, while he’s also under threat of a lawsuit having partially blinded a woman with an errant tee-shot. There’s more baggage accompanying Koepka in Scotland than his suitcase and clubs.
Finau, who contended for the Open Championship at Carnoustie this summer and will look forward to a return there for one of the three rounds, signed off last week on a high by beating Tommy Fleetwood, and if he can bring that golf to the UK will go very well once more. As for Fleetwood, he looked a spent force on Sunday and will do well to focus on this tournament, one he’s enjoyed great success in before, after a gruelling albeit hugely successful Ryder Cup debut.
Those four players – Koepka, Finau, Hatton and Fleetwood – are so capable that any one of them could rock up here and win, without even being fully awake. However, the Ryder Cup has become something so all-consuming that I would be extremely impressed; to my mind, it’s no surprise that we have to go back to 2010 for the last time a team member won this a few days later, and that was Martin Kaymer, who had won his two starts prior to Celtic Manor, too.
Beyond the aforementioned quartet are a pair of event specialists, Chris Wood and Shane Lowry, whose links credentials are rock-solid. The in-form Eddie Pepperell played well in this last year but was reportedly struck down with a bug last week, while Matt Fitzpatrick hasn’t done much in the event before and for all that his game looks like it should suit links golf, he’s yet to really show it. None of them make any serious appeal at the prices.
Instead, I’m intent on rolling the dice. Oliver Wilson and David Howell have shown in recent years that anything can happen in this curate’s egg but they also point towards the benefits of home advantage. Thirteen of the 17 previous winners have been from the UK and Ireland and the home players who are comfortable with the courses and forecast breezy conditions are at an advantage.
Robert Rock has two European Tour Titles under his belt
With that in mind, Robert Rock gets my headline vote.
Rock was seventh at St Andrews in the 2010 Open Championship and fourth in this event last year, and the popular midlands man has been threatening to win his third European Tour title for much of the season.
He has previous at this time of year courtesy of his breakthrough in Italy seven years ago, while his career highlight – victory in Abu Dhabi – came in another high-class field where there’s an opportunity for the slightly lesser light to catch a world-class player cold in the first event of the calendar year.
Rock’s best recent effort came at the Nordea Masters, where conditions were breezy and cool as expected this week in Scotland, and he kept things ticking over nicely with 17th in Denmark followed more recently by 34th in the Portugal Masters, where he ranked a promising 11th for greens hit.
Last year, Rock teamed up with friend Brian McFadden to finish second in the pro-am and with the pair expected to play together again, he looks primed for another enjoyable and potentially productive week in an event won by his pupil, Wilson, in 2014.
Further encouragement is taken from a top-10 finish in last year’s Scottish Open and he led that event at halfway earlier this year, so this confirmed links lover rates a solid each-way fancy at 100/1.
Former Ryder Cup stars Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer aren’t lightly overlooked, the latter in particular in love with this event and having shown a little more in the KLM Open, but I’m happy to keep this really speculative with Chris Paisley next.
Hailing from Hexham, Paisley is well drilled in playing in the wind and while this has been a summer to forget, his eighth place in the Web.com Tour Championship last time might just prove the turning point.
Paisley came up one shot shy of a PGA Tour card in Florida but he’s had time to get over the disappointment and a return to the European Tour, where he earned a breakthrough success in South Africa at the start of the year, provides a platform from which he could well kick on towards Dubai.
Having been 12th here on his debut, shooting 62 at Kingsbarns when under immense pressure to keep his card, Paisley has some positive memories of the event and it strikes me as a good place to make his return to action in this part of the world.
The fact that he’s close with Fleetwood, with whom he played at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans earlier this year, is another small factor which could work in his favour and prices in the region of 150/1 look to underestimate the potential significance of his latest start.
Others of note include Hao-tong Li, who has a third place in the Open to his name to demonstrate his links credentials and is the sort of personality who could really take to this event given the right sort of group. He’s been playing well of late and is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Erik van Rooyen bids to follow in the footsteps compatriot of Branden Grace and win here and he too has played some really good links golf throughout the season, while Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult has won the Lytham Trophy, an event on the CV of former Dunhill winner Stephen Gallacher and a pointer towards his suitability to links golf.
Kinhult is particularly interesting after third place in Qatar and fifth in France, two nice pointers, and I did wonder whether he might be able to follow Kaymer’s lead and get a family group given that he’s the son of a professional. Sadly, there’s no sign yet of women being able to play in the event, Kinhult’s sister, Frida, being a high-class amateur golfer.
Aaron Rai is alongside Kinhult in being among the most promising youngsters on the European Tour and looks overpriced to me at 200/1.
Three missed cuts in a row explain the odds, but there have been positive signs in each from opening rounds of 66 and 67 to the 71-70 he shot in Portugal on a bombers’ golf course where the exceptionally low scoring conditions would not have been in his favour.
Before that, Rai finished 24th in both Sweden and the Czech Republic and he continues to strike the ball well, which could be all the more important if the wind does whip up and make this more challenging than can be the case under calm conditions.
His record in Scotland reads 12-11-18-25-9, a run which includes 25th in this event last year when very much cutting his teeth at the top table, and the Wolverhampton man can show what he’s capable of once more with plenty to suit.
Aaron Rai should be suited by this week’s test
There are no playing privilege issues for any of the first three on my list, but next I’ll side with a couple of Scottish players in need of a big week soon and perhaps capable of producing it here.
Marc Warren has done so two years running, with top-five finishes in both 2016 and 2017, and while extending that sequence perhaps isn’t likely, his prospects of doing so look greater than the odds suggest.
Warren has long been able to raise his game on home soil, his second victory on the European Tour having come at Gleneagles, and while he’s 150th in the Race To Dubai rankings for a reason, a second-round 64 in Portugal last time hinted that all is not lost.
He’d previously played well in Sweden for 17th place before a string of missed cuts but Warren is the type of player to pop up out of nowhere when he absolutely needs to, and when he’s playing an event like this one.
Last week’s warm-up at Turnberry can’t hurt and Warren, who is particularly comfortable at Carnoustie, the most difficult course of the three, can defy expectations once more.
Richie Ramsay has been second and fourth in this event from nine starts and, like Warren albeit to a lesser extent, has some quality form in his homeland including top-10 finishes in the Johnnie Walker and the Scottish Open.
At 127th in the Race To Dubai, he’s one big week away from securing his playing rights for next season and four starts ago showed what he can do when he’s on the right golf course with an encouraging 12th place in Denmark.
Ramsay will be suited by the forecast breeze and while he couldn’t be described as a strong fancy, he’s another with enough in his profile to speculate that a return to form might arrive at just the right time.
Finally, a mention for Scottish youngsters Bradley Neil and Connor Syme. The latter has been practicing at Carnoustie over the weekend, shot 62 in the Scottish Open earlier in the year and played very well for a top-20 finish on an invite 12 months ago.
As for Neil, he played well as an amateur here in 2013 alongside playing partner Peter Uihlein, who was so impressed that he donated the £10,000 amateur event prize to the Scottish Golf Union to help with Neil’s development as he prepared to move into the professional ranks.
A big-hitter who makes a lot of birdies, he’d be better suited by calm weather but if conditions do work in his favour, he’s the sort I could see shooting something silly around Kingsbarns or St Andrews. If the draw and the weather work in his favour, he could be worth a speculative play in the first-round leader market.
Posted at 1308 BST on 02/10/18.