Genesis Scottish Open
It was a bit of non-entity for us in all honesty at the John Deere Classic with our headline pick Adam Schenk withdrawing after day one and with things going further downhill from there on in. To be fair we were in a reasonable position after the second day with one of our three picks who made the cut, Taylor Moore, sat in a place position however after he stalled with an over par round on Saturday our race was run.
The event itself was won by JT Poston who managed to win wire to wire for the second time in his career, some achievement!
For a small time on the front nine on Sunday it looked like Poston might give the chasing pack some hope as he began to look nervy however he soon settled back down and in the end he was a comfortable winner.
So onwards we go and with a just a week to go to the final Major of the season, The Open Championship, it is an all new venture for the PGA Tour this week as we have on both sides of the Atlantic the first two of three co sanctioned events as part of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour’s much heralded ‘strategic alliance’.
The ‘alliance’, which, in the face of the threat posed by LIV Golf, has been strengthened of late with the announcement, amongst other things, of ten PGA Tour cards to be awarded from the end of next season to the highest finishers on the DP World Tour not already to hold a PGA Card, confirmed this step forward in relation to the co sanctioning of events last summer, so long before LIV was fore front and centre in our minds, however there is no doubt that with threat already rumbling at that time it was part of a strategy to make the DP World Tour offering more enticing to its members.
To that end this week several of the DP World Tour’s rank and file will dream of having that one special week that allows them to lock up a PGA Tour card and all the riches that come with it both in Scotland and over at the Barbasol in Kentucky.
Meanwhile for PGA Tour members with valuable Fedex Cup points on offer as well as a place in the Open for those not already exempt there are plenty of reasons to make the trip over to Scotland.
The reason for this is to accommodate the tour’s ‘strategic alliance’ with the DP World Tour, which has lead to next weeks Scottish Open being given PGA Tour status, therefore the John Deere moves forward a week on the schedule to avoid being an opposite field event, honours, which will be taken instead by the Barbasol next week.
The event will be played for the fourth year running at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick only ten minutes or so away from Muirfield.
Not unsurprisingly, and despite the ban on LIV players taking part, we have a stellar field on display with only one of the worlds top ten, Rory McIlroy missing out.
The market is marginally headed up by John Rahm over Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler. This trio are then followed by Xander Schauffele and Matt Fitzpatrick who returns to action for the first time after his US Open triumph.
The Renaissance Club is a par 71 measuring just under 7300 yds
The greens are fescue based comparable to those used at Royal Birkdale.
Unusually for a par 71 the course features four par fives and five par three’s.
The course, which was originally designed by Tom Doak opened for play in 2008.
All though manufactured the aim was naturally to create an authentic links test with deep bunkering and thick rough however to date the players have not found the course too tough to get to grips with, with the scoring as you would expect dictated by the weather.
With the event having now had three outings on at this venue let’s firstly take a look at those three editions and the top ten finishers in each;
2021 – 1- M W Lee [Playoff] 2 – M Fitzpatrick, T Detry, 4 L Herbert, I Poulter, R Palmer, 7 – J Rahm, 8 J Veerman & J Thomas, 10 – J Senior & X Schauffele.
2020 – 1 – A Rai [Playoff] 2 – T Fleetwood, 3 – R Rock, 4 M Warren & L Herbert, 6 – M Kinhult, E an Rooyen, I Poulter, 9 – K Sammoja, M Southgate, P Harrington, V Dubuisson & E Pepperell.
2019 – 1 - B Wiesberger [Playoff] B Hebert, 3 – R Langasque, 4 – N Bertasio, A Johnston, A Pavan, A Putnam, H Stenson, 9 R Cabrera-Bello, G Coetzee, J Donaldson, L Slattery, J Thomas.
The first thing to note here is that with the caveat that with the cancellation of The Open in 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the two editions played prior to the Open at Renaissance have seen the normal pattern of slightly lesser names winning the week before a Major. As a reminder of this below you’ll see a list of the winners of PGA Tour events the week before a Major going back to 2018.
2022 – RBC Canadian Open [Pre US Open] R McIlroy.
2022 – AT&T Byron Nelson [Pre – PGA] KH Lee
2022 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] JJ Spaun
2021 – John Deere Classic [Pre Open] L Glover
2021 – Palmetto Champ [Pre US Open] G Higgo
2021 – Byron Nelson [Pre – PGA] KH Lee
2021 – Valero Texas Open [Pre- Masters] Jordan Spieth
2020 – Houston Open [Pre- Masters] Carlos Ortiz
2020 – Safeway Open [Pre- US Open] Stewart Cink
2020 – WGC – Fedex St Jude [Pre-USPGA] Justin Thomas
2019 – John Deere Classic [Pre-Open] Dylan Fritelli
2019 – Canadian Open [Pre- US Open] Rory McIlroy
2019 – Byron Nelson [Pre- PGA] Sung Kang
2019 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] Corey Conners
2018 – WGC Bridgestone Inv [Pre- PGA] Justin Thomas
2018 – John Deere Classic [Pre Open] Michael Kim
2018 – WGC Fedex St Jude [Pre- Open] Dustin Johnson
2018 – Houston Open [Pre- Masters] Ian Poulter
As we can see from this list if we exclude the three WGC’s where you would always expect a bigger name to be focused on bagging the trophy only three of them, the 2021 Valero Texas Open and the RBC Canadian Open have been won by big names, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy twice in Canada, and in Spieth’s case having been winless for so long he was clearly 100% focused. With the remaining twelve though having been won by ‘lesser names’ it is clear that in general it makes sense to swerve the marquee names when they tee it up the week before a Major as they will most likely be using the event as a tune up.
This is a pattern that has also been rubber stamped in this event over the years with Rickie Fowler back in 2015 arguably the last winner who was seen as one of the main contenders for the Open the previous week.
Looking at form coming in to the week and both the 2019 and 2020 winners Wiesberger and Rai had telegraphed their victories here by finishing runner up in Ireland the week before while last years winner Mi Woo Lee had played solidly to finish 17th in Ireland the previous week.
Finally in relation to course form while we only have three years to go on the last two winners Lee and Rai had played solidly on the track the year before to finish 30th and ninth respectively.
Scoring here is needless to say very much dictated by the weather conditions with the 2020 edition, which was played later in the year in tougher conditions seeing Rai post 11- under. The other two editions though have seen 18- under and 22- under totals posted by the eventual winner.
With wind being the courses main protection the first thing to note is that Mother Nature looks set to play its part this week with 30mph+ gusts expected across the four days.
Temperatures look set to sit around the high 60s to 70 across the week with no rain of significance expected.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
LUCAS HERBERT –66/1 - 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED MC
In an event where I am happy to swerve those at the very top of the market who I suspect will have one eye on the big prize next week the first name that leaps off the page to me at the odds is that of Lucas Herbert.
The case it must be said for Herbert is as straightforward as you can get this week as it is the obvious mix of course form meets current form.
With regards firstly to course form and Lucas has notched back to back fourth place finishes here over the past couple of years with both performances coming on the back of a great outing in Ireland the week before.
In 2020 Herbert was seventh In the Irish Open on the re arranged schedule before backing that up with a great week in the tough conditions here. Roll the calendar on twelve months and the Aussie bagged the trophy on the Emerald Isle before again playing really well here the next week.
Looking at those two performances here and it tells us what we already know about Herbert, that he is incredibly comfortable in coastal conditions and/or when the wind blows. This is something that is rubber stamped by his victory in a howling gale in Bermuda on the PGA Tour last Fall and his win in Dubai in an event, which always ties well to links style events.
Having won in Bermuda Herbert is now of course a fully fledged PGA Tour member and as such has been plying his trade Stateside this year steadily if unspectacularly with a best showing of seventh in the Arnold Palmer Invitational while more recently he produced a strong performance at the PGA to finish seventh.
Of late Lucas has gone slightly off the boil in the US with a couple of down the field efforts at the Charles Schwab and the Memorial and a missed cut in the US Open, however a return last week to a successful hunting ground in Ireland seemed to do the trick as despite a slightly disappointing Sunday he finished eighth.
This week then on a course, which we know he likes and as we know from his 2019 finish can handle in tough conditions, Herbert looks a rock solid each way proposition to go well again and I am keen to be on board at the price.
AARON RAI – 70 /1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Another former DP World Tour regular who now plies his trade on the PGA Tour is Aaron Rai and like Herbert he looks great value to me this week to step up again on his return to Scottish soil.
Rai earnt his PGA Tour card through the Korn Ferry Tour finals last Fall and while he is yet to seriously threaten a win on the circuit he has produced an incredibly solid debut season to currently sit a comfortable 77th in the Fedex Cup standings.
Looking at Aaron’s stats for the season and it has been his customary ability to find plenty of fairways and greens that has been the key to his success to date and it is only his often suspect putter that has stopped him from improving on a best solo effort of sixth at Torrey Pines in the Farmers.
The 27yr old arrived in Ireland last week on the back of five straight made cuts on the PGA Tour and, a mad dash after the Travelers to play in final qualifying for the Open where he agonisingly missed out in a play-off. In Ireland he then delivered another really strong performance to finish ninth however he again missed out on one of the Open places available.
On this week to Scotland then and its last chance saloon for Aaron to produce the big week, which will send him to the 150th Open and on a course that he has had great success on there is every reason to believe he can produce what’s needed and maybe more.
With regards to history here and Rai has made three visits to the Renaissance Club with his highlight of course coming in 2020 when he won here in the tougher October conditions, from that point of view if the wind does pick up this week as predicted this could well play in to his hands.
In Ireland last week Rai was really solid off the tee over the first three days in particular and I am happy to side with him to build on that showing and produce an even stronger effort this time out.
RICKIE FOWLER – 150 /1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 47th
For my last two picks this week I am going to step away from the obvious course/current form mantra and speculate somewhat more starting with Rickie Fowler.
Any bet on Fowler is of course speculative at the moment as clearly he is not the player he once was as he battles to turn his game around.
Like all players who struggle Fowler has been very much playing ‘golf swing’ rather than golf over the past couple of years however of late he has at least strung together a run of four straight made cuts on the PGA Tour, which began at the Wells Fargo in May before he unfortunately missed the cut at the Travelers.
This week though I just have a hunch that a trip overseas to a style of golf, which we know Fowler over the years has loved might just allow him to take the shackles off and spark him to produce a more ‘natural’ performance and having been enjoying the hospitality and the Guinness in Ireland over the weekend with Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler while getting in some links practice he should be ready to go here.
While it has been a struggle for Fowler over the past couple of years he has still popped up with the odd strong result here or there, most noticeably on another links type test at Kiawah Island in last years PGA, where he finished eighth, while his best effort this season came in the CJ Cup in the Fall when he was third.
Unlike his fellow golfing/drinking buddies from last weekend Fowler is not exempt in to next weeks Open therefore this is ‘it’ for him this week and if you add in the fact that he currently sits 123rd in the Fedex Cup standings there is a huge incentive for him to perform here.
The odds on offer naturally reflect where Rickie’s game is at these days however at the price I am willing to take a chance that the former winner of this title and self-professed lover of links golf will be inspired to a big week here.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 250/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 16th
For my final pick in this event I am going to take a chance on a player who I have had a hunch may take to this type of test for a while now, Wyndham Clark.
Granted of course as someone who follows the PGA Tour closely it is possible I may have a bias to Clark here, however ever since he first came on tour and caught our eye at the Honda, an event, which we know is often a massive pointer to Open Championships, I have felt Clark might flourish on the links. I was naturally delighted then when Wyndham produced a seventh place finish in Canada to earn his spot in next week’s Open.
Here no doubt on cloud nine then on the back of that qualification a further look at Clark’s CV on the PGA Tour gives more encouragement that he is comfortable by the coast/in the wind.
Firstly in addition to his seventh place at the Honda he has also posted an 11th place in the same event, while he has a top ten by the coast in Puerto Rico and a runner up finish in Bermuda, which certainly links in well with one of our earlier picks Herbert.
Long off the tee and strong on the greens at his best, Clark can potentially over power the four par fives here and give himself plenty of scoring opportunities and I feel his profile on that front is very similar to another American who went well here last year, Ryan Palmer.
I also take plenty of encouragement that while it is tempting to think that Americans who have been very much based at home may not ‘travel well’ Clark’s trip to Korea for the CJ Cup in 2019 proved to be a very fruitful one as he finished eighth.
Finally, and I admit this is speculation to the enth degree but two of Renaissance Club designer Tom Doak’s, most well-known courses are Pacific Dunes in Oregon and Ballyneal in Colorado, both of, which have been ranked in the world’s top 100, and with Clark having been brought up and attended college in those two states it may just be that he has a level of comfort with Doak’s designs if he is familiar with these tracks as I would expect him to be.
That final point is as I say is hugely speculative however with Wyndham’s form having turned around of late with the big week in Canada and two decent efforts at the Memorial and the Travelers, I will wrap things up this week by following my hunch that he takes to this test and roll the dice at massive each way odds.