Scottish Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
AARON RAI heads north of the border to defend the Scottish Open title he won last year after a playoff with Tommy Fleetwood. Rai, who recorded his maiden win on the European Tour in the 2018 Hong Kong Open, made par from a fairway bunker on the 18th in regulation play at The Renaissance Club before repeating the feat from almost the same spot in the playoff. It had been advantage Fleetwood after the pair had hit their tee shots, but Fleetwood made five from the middle of the fairway after missing a three-foot par putt.
"It's incredible, a dream come true," admitted Rai, who had closed with a 64 to finish alongside Fleetwood (67) on 11-under-par, one ahead of another Englishman, overnight leader Robert Rock, who paid the price for a poor chip at the 18th as a five to finish cost him a spot in that play-off.
Five years earlier, Rai picked up £10,000, a golf trolley and a rangefinder after claiming the Glenfarclas Open on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour. This was a different ball game. "I remember it a lot," he admitted. "I turned pro in 2012 and looked at guys competing on the EuroPro at that time and wanted to compete with them. That was the first tournament I had a chance to win and it was a really big moment at that time. On that tour, you have to finish in the top five on the money-list to progress up the ladder, so a win was really important. I won a golf trolley and a Bushnell rangefinder. It is different to almost a million pounds (laughing).
"I most definitely wouldn't be standing here today if it hadn't been for that win. The margins are so small from the satellite tours or Challenge Tour. It was incredibly important.”
Last year’s victory took Rai up to fifth in the Race to Dubai and proelled him into the top 100 in the world, but he almost shrugged that off. “First and foremost, I think being able to draw on this experience and the one last week [when he nearly won the Irish Open] probably has more value than world ranking points," he said. "It's nice to be potentially be able to draw on that in the future. Golf is a very changeable game, but this can certainly put me in a good position going forward.”
Rai, who had a chance to force a play-off in the previous week's Irish Open until pulling his second shot at the last at Galgorm Castle into a horrible spot, produced a polished last-day performance.
On a course that showed no signs whatsoever of the absolute pounding it had taken from the continuous rain on Saturday, he dropped a shot at the second before hitting his stride with five birdies in six holes on the front nine. He then picked up further shots at the 12th, 13th and 16th coming home before salvaging a great par at the last after the first of those two visits into the same bunker.
Fleetwood, who was bidding for a third success on Scottish soil, having won the 2009 Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship as an amateur at Murcar then the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles three years later after switching to the pro ranks, was left to rue a poor putting performance on the final day. Fleetwood is also back at The Renaissance Club, where he will be joined by a world-class field preparing for next week’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s.
US Open champion Jon Rahm and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy are the star attractions. McIlroy will make his seventh appearance at Scotland’s national open - and his first since 2019 - as part of a line-up that also includes Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.
Rahm, the current Race to Dubai leader, will go in search of a fifth Rolex Series title when he makes his Scottish Open debut alongside fellow Major winner Morikawa and four-time PGA Tour winner Schauffele, while the 2017 US PGA Championship winner Thomas returns for a second appearance.
Tyrrell Hatton will also look to add to his multiple Rolex Series titles when he tees it up alongside fellow 2018 Ryder Cup stars Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari and Henrik Stenson, the current European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington, and his newly appointed Vice Captains Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell.
Lee Westwood is also confirmed for this year’s event, alongside 12-time European Tour winner Ian Poulter, fellow Englishman and defending champion Aaron Rai and their compatriots Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace and 2016 Masters Tournament champion Danny Willett, who have 17 European Tour titles between them.
Leading the home charge will be Robert MacIntyre, the highest-ranked Scotsman in the world at 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking, while American stars Billy Horschel, Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris are among the players making their debuts as the second Rolex Series event of the 2021 Race to Dubai takes it’s traditional slot in the week before The Open.
It was won in 2015 by Rickie Fowler, in 2016 by Alex Noren, in 2017 by Rafa Cabrera-Bello, in 2018 by Brandon Stone, in 2019 by Bernd Wiesberger and last year by Aaron Rai.
Renaissance lies next to Muirfield. It was designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2008. It is a links course that measures 7,303 yards. If the wind blows it will provide a real test.
Tyrrell Hatton won the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier in the year. He has spent most of the season playing on the PGA Tour, with mixed results, but he has a fabulous record in Rolex Series events. It is hard to bet against Jon Rahm, a two-time winner of the Irish Open and, of course, the new US Open champion. The Spaniard now tops the world rankings and is in imperious form. Bernd Wiesberger missed the cut at the US Open, but won the Made in Himmerland in May and was joint fifth at the BMW International Open. He will enjoy the challenge.
Bernd Wiesberger. Eight-time European Tour winner
Tyrrell Hatton. Could do with a decent week
Jon Rahm. Sure to be in contention
Five to Follow:
Bernd Wiesberger. Glorious ball striker
Tyrrell Hatton. Great record in Rolex Series events
Jon Rahm. Can win anywhere
Rory McIlroy. There are some encouraging signs
Tommy Fleetwood. Looking to salvage a disappointing season
Martin Kaymer. Getting closer to winning again
Joost Luiten. Will want the win to blow
Marc Warren. Would love to win on home soil
Padraig Harrington. Ryder Cup captain adores links golf
Francesco Molinari, Finally fit again
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