Scottish Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE latest UK Swing concludes with the Scottish Championship at Fairmont St Andrews, with the European Tour crossing their fingers for the weather. They experienced mixed fortunes at the Irish Open, Scottish Open and BMW Championship, but the important thing is that the tournaments were completed and we witnessed some spectacular golf at all three venues - and a welcome return to form from Tommy Fleetwood.
After such a gruelling schedule, Europe’s finest could be forgiven for choosing to take the week off, especially the fact that they know they are almost certainly going to get wet and feel the cold. Well we are talking about Scotland towards the end of October! However, Lee Westwood, Scottish Open champion Aaron Rai, Matt Wallace, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and two-time winner Sam Horsfield are all making the trip up north. And, unsurprisingly, there is a very strong Scottish presence, with Marc Warren, Robert MacIntyre, Richie Ramsay, Stephen Gallacher, Callum Hill, David Law and Connor Syme all looking like possible winners.
After a miserable couple of years, Warren won in Austria when the European Tour returned. He then struggled for a few weeks before rediscovering his very best form, coming within a whisker of winning the Scottish Open. He says that he has finally learnt to enjoy his golf and has stopped tinkering with his swing. Warren has always been a man who has been especially hard on himself when things haven’t gone his way but he has finally realised that it is not possible to play great golf week in, week out. In other words, he takes what comes his way - and is looking like a far better player as a result.
Syme is beginning to look like he could become a world-class player. A terrific run of form in the UK Swing, during which he achieved three successive top-10 finishes, saw him qualify for the US Open. He missed the cut at Winged Foot but said that he felt it was a priceless learning experience. Syme hits the ball straight and is able to keep it under the wind - two huge assets this week.
MacIntyre has struggled since the lockdown ended but he has a tough act to follow after his rookie season last year, when he finished second on three occasions and enjoyed seven top-10 finishes. But there were some positive signs at the Scottish Open, where he finished in a tie for 14th after a poor opening round of 74.
Westwood clearly has both the Race to Dubai title and a Ryder Cup place in his sights. How else do you explain the fact that the 47-year-old is out there yet again? A 25-time winner on the European Tour, the latest of which came at this year’s Abu Dhabi Championship, the Englishman is enjoying an Indian summer. His first victory came way back in 1996 and he has now won in four different decades. He claims that he is not as flexible as he used to be but his swing doesn’t appear to have changed in all those years. He has always been a magnificent driver of the golf ball, and continues to be so.
Westwood is also a terrific iron player. If he has a weakness it is on the greens but he hits so many quality shots that he is able to overcome this and, on his day, remains a match for anybody, as he proved with an opening round of 62 in the Scottish Open. He also finished in a tie for 13th place at the US Open. Westwood has made 10 Ryder Cup appearances and is looking like a shoo-in for Padraig Harrington’s team to take on the USA next year. And who wouldn’t want him by their side on American soil?
The Torrance Course, which has hosted the Scottish Seniors Open in the past, will be staging a main tour event for the first time.
“We are delighted that the European Tour have selected Fairmont St Andrews and the Torrance Course to host the Scottish Championship," said John Keating, area general manager of Luxury Brands Scotland and Ireland. “With so many iconic venues staging European Tour Events in 2020, we are thrilled to be part of this. The course will provide a great test and challenge for the players so we are looking forward to seeing the performance, and hope the players enjoy the chance to be back in St Andrews.”
The slot became available following the ASI Scottish Open and BMW PGA Championship both moving forward a week. That resulted from a decision by organisers to call off this year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns due to the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing restrictions.
Following the Scottish Championship, the Italian Open will be played from 22-25 October but, like the Irish Open, following the many changes and disruption to this year’s schedule, it will not be part of the Rolex Series.
The tour then heads off to Cyprus for the Cyprus Open and Cyprus Classic, both of which will be played at the magnificent Aphrodite Hills Resort, near Paphos, with prize funds of €1m. They will, of course, be played without spectators.
The back-to-back tournaments, promoted by International Sports Management, continue the tour’s strategy of staging consecutive tournaments in geographical clusters wherever possible to reduce the onus on international travel.
“We are pleased to be able to announce these three new tournaments as part of our 2020 International Schedule, which will continue to give valuable playing opportunities to our members," said Ben Cowen, the tour's deputy chief operating officer. “We are grateful to Aphrodite Hills Resort and ISM for their support in staging two consecutive tournaments as part of our first trip to Cyprus, and we look forward to showcasing the country to our global television audience.
“Similarly our thanks also go to Fairmont St Andrews, which has previously staged the Scottish Senior Open, for stepping up to now host the Scottish Championship, which extends our second UK Swing to four events. As the Home of Golf, Scotland obviously has many top class golfing venues and we are delighted to be visiting another of those.”
Matt Wallace. Desperate to get back to winning ways
Robert MacIntyre. Finding his best once again
Lee Westwood. Still one of the best ball strikers
Matt Wallace. Can win if he finds enough fairways
Robert MacIntrye. Wonderful temperament
Lee Westwood. All depends on the short stick
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Won’t be blown away if the wind gets up!
Marc Warren. Would love to win on home soil
Sam Horsfield. Now has Ryder Cup ambitions
Eddie Pepperell. Looking to get back on track
Aaron Rai. In a rich vein of form.
Connor Syme. Now a consistent performer
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