The Britain and Ireland “Links Swing” continuers with the Scottish Open this week which has attracted an outstanding field as players continue to adjust to seaside golf. Branden Grace has a great deal in his favour and can win the event in the last week before the Open Championship, the greatest golf tournament in the world.
In comparison to the European Tour event in Scotland the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour has a distinct second grade look about it. Winning a tournament in the States brings great rewards including a two-year exemption and this looks like a good opportunity for Ryan Moore to win for the sixth time as a professional.
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Links golf is the purest form of the game and it requires the full range of skills for good scoring. Weather conditions are often a factor and bad luck with the draw can scupper the chances of even the best players in form. Links courses are characterised by greens that are above average in size and bunkers on the fairways and beside the green. This type of track puts a premium on accuracy over distance. Drying winds can harden the fairways and make greens difficult to hit.
Last week it was Ireland and next week it’s the daddy of them all, the British Open at Royal Birkdale. It’s a classic links course with generous fairways between the huge sand dunes. The course is vulnerable in still conditions but stiff breezes blowing off the Irish Sea increase the degree of difficulty. Tommy Fleetwood is taking this week off which improves his chances of winning a major in his home town. After a busy schedule he bypasses Scotland and can have a relaxing week instead.
Since the Scottish Open found a regular home on links course the quality of the field has improved because players don’t play much links golf and the Open is the most prestigious tournament in the sport. Bad bounces are part of the challenge and the tournament can be just as much a mental as physical challenge. The Scottish Open will ask some of the key questions that players will confront next week. Henrik Stenson will be keen to find some form this week ahead of defending at the Open.
The tournament is being played at Dundonald Links in Troon which also features an Open venue. The course is partly tree lined and slightly inland but is links in nature. The banks are not as high as those found at Birkdale but the layout will require good course management and the ability to hit fairways and greens. Branden Grace is a proven links player who has the game to beat the rest of the field including the 2015 champion, Rickie Fowler. Rory McIlroy will be honing his game for Birkdale.
Grace is a past two times winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship that is played on three seaside courses on the east coast of Scotland. He has also won the Qatar Open twice and that tournament is often affected by the Shamal Wind, a feature of playing conditions in that part of the world. Doha is not Troon but both locations provide a similar type of test when the wind blows. Grace has the game and temperament to deliver in Scotland this week.
In the States TPC at Deere Run presents a different challenge. The course is liked by the pros because it is fair and consistent. There are variables on the greens and in the rough but the challenge rarely deviates from the norm from year to year. Moore is the defending champion and he can get in the mix again before leaving for Birkdale and the Open. He has been sidelined for five weeks due to injury but he loves the course. Moore has averaged 67.20 strokes in his last 20 rounds at this week’s host venue.
The 7,268 yards layout at Deere Run is one of the most scorable courses on Tour. Light winds are forecast but nothing that can compare with the potential gales that can affect scoring on links courses in Britain. The best preparation might not be on a stadium course in the States but Birkdale’s natural features makes it the best stadium course in the world and Grace and Moore can arrive there in good nick.
Back next Thursday.