Genesis Scottish Open
It was another of those ‘nearly but not quite’ weeks for us at the John Deere as Adam Schenk was in prime position heading in to Sunday to bag his maiden tour title as he started the day in second place one shot off the lead.
Sadly for us though Schenk stalled on the front nine playing it in +1 and by the time he got going on the back nine he was unable to close to Sepp Straka who had separated himself from the field with a scintillating closing 62 to bag his second tour title.
In the end then we treaded water with a full place return from Schenk with our other three picks never in the picture over the week.
So onwards we go and with a just a week to go to the final Major of the season, The Open Championship, it is time for the second outing for the PGA Tour of their cross Atlantic ‘strategic alliance’ which see’s both this week’s Scottish Open and the Barbasol In Kentucky as co sanctioned events.
The ‘alliance’, which, launched last year in the face of the threat posed by LIV Golf, gives an opportunity for several of the DP World Tour’s rank and file to 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. Although quite how a win for a ‘rank & file’ DP World Tour member in Kentucky would then integrate in to the all new 2024 Fedex Cup structure is another question!
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 event will be played for the fifth year running at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick only ten minutes or so away from Muirfield.
Not unsurprisingly we have a stellar field on display with world number one Scottie Scheffler heading up the market followed by Rory McIlroy.
This duo are then followed by Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and the resurgent Rickie Fowler.
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 if the weather co-operates the players have not found the course too tough to get to grips with.
With the event having now had four outings on at this venue let’s firstly take a look at those editions and the top ten finishers in each;
2022 – 1 X Schauffele, 2 K Kitayama, 3 T Kim, T4 P Cantlay & T Fleetwood, T6 J Donaldson, M Fitzpatrick, C Tringale B Wu. T10 D Burmester, T Detry, R Hojgaard, A Smalley, C Smith & J Spieth.
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.
2023 – RBC Canadian Open [Pre US Open] N Taylor.
2023 – Byron Nelson [Pre PGA] J Day
2023 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] C Conners
2022 – Scottish Open [Pre Open] X Schauffele
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 – Scottish Open [Pre Open] M W Lee
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
Since outlining this stat in this preview last year we have seen four events played the week prior to a Major, with only one of them, this event, being won by one of the games ‘elite’ Xander Schauffele.
Jason Day who triumphed the week before the PGA certainly was historically in this category however he had tumbled down the world rankings over recent years and was clearly 100% focused on returning to the winners circle in Texas.
From the list going back through 2022 and beyond 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, similarly to Day, 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.
Prior to Schauffele’s win last year this is a pattern that has been rubber stamped in this event over the years with Rickie Fowler back in 2015 arguably the last previous winner who was seen as one of the main contenders for the Open.
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 Min Woo Lee had played solidly to finish 17th in Ireland the previous week. Schauffele meanwhile had of course triumphed in his previous start at the Travelers.
Finally in relation to course form while we only have four years to go on Lee and Rai had played solidly on the track the year before to finish 30th and ninth respectively, while Schauffele had been tenth here the year before.
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 while the 2019 and 2021 editions have seen 18- under and 22- under totals posted by the eventual winner. Last year however tough conditions were in play and Schauffele ground out a win with a 7- under total.
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 25mph+ gusts expected across the four days.
Temperatures look set to sit around the mid 60s with the occasional shower a possibility.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
TOMMY FLEETWOOD –20/1 - 2pts e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED T6th
I will start with one selection from the top end of the market in the shape of Tommy Fleetwood.
Fleetwood, as is well documented is yet to win on the PGA Tour and while a win this week would still see him looking for a maiden title Stateside it would of course lift that monkey off his back in what is undoubtedly a world class field. From that point of view then even with an Open Championship next week in his ‘own back yard’ I expect him to be fully focused on the job in hand.
Tommy’s prowess in links conditions is will documented of course and anytime he tee’s it up on a blustery coastal track he should be one for the short list. This year though we have the added ingredient that he arrives in to this portion of the season in arguably the best all round form that he has been at this time of year for a few years, with four top fives to his name on the PGA Tour in 2023 including the agonising play off defeat in Canada.
A look at Fleetwood’s stats for 2023 show us exactly why his results have been so solid as he sits high up in all key areas. Seventh from tee to green, 23rd in approach play, seventh around the green and 29th in putting, show us exactly how strongly he is performing this year.
This year will mark Tommy’s fourth start in this event at this venue and in the three previous visits he has posted a runner up finish and a fourth place finish last year. Noticeably as well these two high finishes came in the two years the course has played toughest, in 2020 when the event was played later in the year post covid, and last year when the conditions were challenging. This year then with blustery conditions once more forecast I expect conditions to play very much in to Fleetwood’s hands.
Tommy’s most recent victory came in the Nedbank Challenge at the back end of last year so he will be keen to land a first win of 2023 and particularly one, which counts as a PGA Tour trophy. In what should be ideal conditions for him then I’ll take my chances on him this week.
JUSTIN THOMAS – 50 /1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 60th
Next up I will take the bait offered on the odds on Justin Thomas.
It has no doubt been a tough 2023 for Thomas as he has had to watch his form slump, somewhat ironically while his close friend Rickie Fowler rediscovers his best stuff.
Heading across the pond then JT arrives in Scotland with just three top tens to his name this year the most recent of, which came in the Travelers a couple of starts back.
Certainly not the JT we have come to know then and at 70th in the Fedex Cup standings at present, unthinkable as it might seem, if things don’t pick up over the next few weeks he may not even make the play offs.
While there have been rumours of a niggling injury, which he is possibly trying to play through a look at the stats tell us that the root of Thomas’ issues this season has actually been on the greens. True, his long game numbers have fallen from previous years but 23rd from tee to green and 32nd in approach play is hardly a terminal decline however 147th on the greens is clearly a problem.
After a miserable week at the US Open Justin headed to the Travelers and produced a far better effort to finish ninth, ranking second in approach play for the week and posting a 62 along the way. With positive signs in the bank Justin then added the Rocket Mortgage to his schedule to build on the momentum, however in a case of one step forward, two back a really poor 76 on Thursday left him with too much to do, however Friday’s 69 did again offer encouragement as he ranked 16th in approach play and pertinently 13th on the greens.
On to this week then and it may just be that the change of scenery and indeed set up, is what he needs to really spark his year in to life.
One of the real shot makers on the PGA Tour we know Thomas relishes windy conditions and the challenges of links golf in general and with his long game still in pretty good shape he can hopefully thrive from tee to green. Two top tens in three visits to this track also tell us he is more than comfortable round here.
The two time Major champion was in relaxed mood at Wimbledon over the weekend in the company of Jordan Spieth and Fowler and you would hope that his close friends recent return to the winners enclosure will inspire him to raise his game. If he can then produce an improved putting performance on the slower surfaces he will face here he could suddenly make his odds look really stupid and I am happy to take my chances.
CAMERON DAVIS – 100 /1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up I will return to a player who produced a hugely frustrating performance when we were on him last at The Travelers, Cameron Davis.
That week at TPC River Highlands Davis produced a really strong performance off the tee ranking second in that department for the week, however a terrible couple of days on the Greens on Friday and Saturday where he ranked 141st and then 62nd of those who made the cut, cost him any chance of getting seriously in to the hunt. Needless to say though when it was all too late Cameron then found his putting boots on the Sunday to shoot a final round 63!
The following week Davis then produced a far more solid all round performance to finish 17th at the Rocket Mortgage, where he ranked eighth in approach play, 17th from tee to green and 38th on the greens.
On to this week then and like pretty much all Aussie’s we know Cam relishes coastal conditions, something he of course showed when winning the Australian Open back in 2017.
Moving on to Cam’s career on the PGA Tour he has popped up time and again on coastal tracks with big finishes by the coast including two top three’s at Hilton Head and top tens at Waialae CC, The Sentry ToC and notably an eighth at the Honda, so often a pointer to big performances on UK links tests.
Davis has shown us this year that he is not afraid to raise his game in the biggest of events posting a sixth place at Sawgrass and a fourth in the PGA Championship and with my expectation he will relish this challenge, he looks exactly the type of second tier player who could capitalise this week at juicy each way odds, while the biggest of names focus their eyes at Hoylake.
GARRICK HIGGO – 200/1 –1pt E/W - 1/6 odds 1st 12 - FINISHED 19th
For my final pick in this event I will roll the dice on Garrick Higgo.
Similarly to Cameron Davis Higgo is a hugely talented player who has the potential and the game to mix it at the highest of levels.
Still only 24yrs old Higgo was a three time winner on the DP World Tour by the age of 22 before he then turned his attention to the PGA Tour landing the Palmetto Championship in just his second start Stateside.
Since then it must be said however that things haven’t been plain sailing for the South African with the 21-22 season seeing him fail to make the players as he ranked a lowly 157th.
This season however there have been signs of improvement as he currently ranks 81st for the campaign.
A look at Higgo’s stats show that he has struggled with his iron play currently ranking 155th in that area, while he has also had his struggles on the greens. Off the tee though Garrick has flourished, ranking 15th and last week at the John Deere he was 1st in that department while he was also 18th from tee to green and 38th on the greens. There was also encouragement to be seen in the iron play over the first two days.
The South African was 26th here on his first visit a few years back so we know he can handle the track and of course he will have plenty of experience by the coast from amateur days growing up back home.
A prolific winner when on song I’ll take a chance then at huge odds that a return to Europe can spark Garrick in to life to build on his two more promising US efforts of late.