For 51 weeks of the year golf is an individual sport and a dog-eat-dog world in which one man’s feast is another man’s famine. The better a golfer plays the more prize money he wins and the law of the jungle applies. Anybody that misses the cut earns nothing and the higher the finishing position the better the financial rewards. This week’s Dunhill Links Championship is slightly different to a regular tournament but its still about performing and earning money. The Ryder Cup is the one genuine event in which money is not the object. The Americans couldn’t buy the trophy last week.
The Dunhill event combines a stroke play tournament for professionals with a Pro-Am. The best score on each hole from a pair counts and the amateurs receive strokes based on their handicap. After three rounds 60 professionals qualify for the final round and the leading 20 Pro-Am teams also compete on the Sunday. It’s appropriate that the defending champion is Tyrell Hatton who played for Europe in the Ryder Cup last week and contributed a point. In fact Hatton also won the tournament in 2016 so is going for a three-peat but must beat a friend and some foes.
The 2017 winner is fourth in the betting behind Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and Tommy Fleetwood. It’s debateable if these three players will be totally focused and prepared for the job in hand. Koepka and Finau probably had a quite Sunday night in France. But if I was a betting man I’d bet a few quid that Fleetwood had a late night. He was the joint leading rookie with Justin Thomas of the United States and won four matches with Francesco Molinari. The Open champion went five-for-five in the Ryder Cup and showed more animation than when he won his first major.
We can probably dismiss the four players who competed in the Ryder Cup and focus on links specialists further down the betting. This week’s event is being played at the Old Course at St Andrews, the Championship Course at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns Golf Links. The courses are played in rotation on the first three days and the qualifiers from the pro event and Pro-Am play the Old Course again on Sunday. Chris Wood and Shane Lowry did not play in the Ryder Cup and excel at links golf.
The Old Course has wide-open fairways and despite its fame as the “Home of Golf” is relatively easy when there is no wind. The four short par 4s means the true par is 70 and not 72 but the degree of difficulty goes up when its not still. Carnoustie staged the Open this summer so it’s a demanding test. Kingsbarns is exposed to the wind so the better links exponents will have an advantage. Wood and Lowry are great wind players and excellent golfers by the sea. At least one should make the payout places.
However, you must bear in mind that luck can play a major part in this event because a player can play a course in the worst of the weather one day and then find his competitors face the same challenge in benign conditions the following day. Although it’s not necessary for success its advantageous to play St Andrews on Saturday in round three so that a player can carry forward the feel for the course from the Saturday to Sunday. At the time of writing the tee times were not available. My guess is that the headline acts will be playing their third rounds at St Andrews.
In any normal week you’d fancy one of the Ryder Cup players to prevail. However, mental letdown, physical and mental fatigue and recovery from the party muddy the waters so Wood and Lowry can benefit. Hatton would be a worthy winner again but it’s asking too much after the Ryder Cup and the links specialists are preferred.