Highly-ranked US stars head to the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open this week as it provides the final links-tournament preparation ahead of The Open Championship next week.
World-number-10 Rickie Fowler (who won this event back in 2015), nine-time career winner Matt Kuchar and US Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed all take to the European Tour to refresh their skills against the tough environment of British links golf.
Fowler makes his first European Tour appearance since the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January and Reed since the UBS Hong Kong Open last December, whilst Kuchar is embarking on a European Tour event for the first time since this event exactly two years ago, where he finished tied second.
The trio from the top 25 are also joined by American major championship winners and European Tour irregulars in Jason Dufner (2013 PGA Championship) and Stewart Cink (2009 Open Championship).
The importance of this event as preparation for The Open should not be underestimated, especially for American players unfamiliar with the climate; Phil Mickelson beat Branden Grace in a play-off here back in 2013 and went on to claim a three-shot victory for his first Open title. He does skip the event this year, though.
Despite the influx of high-profile US players to Scotland this week, the biggest names in the field still come from the Tour’s namesake. Struggling world-number-four Rory McIlroy headlines the event looking to bounce back from two missed cuts in three events and will be joined by Henrik Stenson and defending-champion Alex Noren from inside the world top 10.
Adam Scott is the biggest name entering from outside Europe or the US as European Tour regulars Tyrrell Hatton, Bernd Wiesberger, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Martin Kaymer and Matthew Fitzpatrick all take to Dundonald Links. There’s rare starts for the likes of Branden Grace, Russell Knox and Emiliano Grillo from inside the top 50.
Last year Noren headed into the final round with a two-shot lead over Hatton and held his lead throughout, despite it being cut to just one, for his first win of the season and the fifth of his career. That win would kickstart a purple patch culminating in four wins in as many months as he rose from 99th in the world. No player has ever successfully defended their title at this event and so back-to-back wins here for the 34-year-old would rewrite history.
The Scottish Open has held the position the week before The Open since 1987 and, since 2014 along with the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, has provided the final opportunity to qualify for the third major of the year.
One thing that does change this year, though, is the host. Dundonald Links hosts the Scottish Open for the first time. It has hosted the ladies equivalent of this event as well as The Ladies British Open Amateur Championship, but the visit of the European Tour provides its first true test of its capabilities as a tournament host. It sits at 7242 yards and par 72.
This event marks the halfway stage of the European Tour’s Rolex Series and the heightened field looking to gain an advantage for The Open Championship next week will attract all the attention the tour is after.