SCOTTISH OPEN: While the PGA Tour’s lesser lights are sweating it out in the Kentucky heat, the world’s best have gathered in the British Isles for two glorious weeks of links golf. Next week’s Open looms large, of course, but the appetizer ain’t too shabby either, as 14 of the world’s top 15 players will tee it up in what is probably the most anticipated Scottish Open in the event’s illustrious history.
This tournament has steadily increased in popularity since the decision was made a decade ago to only use links courses for the host venue, but this year, for the first time, it is co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour and PGA Tour, so prize money, world ranking points, and player interest have never been higher. The field has the look and feel of a WGC event, and while many players will surely have one eye on St. Andrews and are ultimately using this week to prepare, we have all the ingredients in place for an exciting tournament with a big-time leaderboard.
The course, the Renaissance Club, is situated on the Scottish coast near some of the oldest and most famous links courses in the world, but it is relatively new, having been designed by American Tom Doak and opened in 2008. Make no mistake, though– it’s a true links, so much of the field will be dealing with certain shots, conditions, and obstacles that they don’t often see on the PGA or DP tours. As is always the case with links golf, the scoring will largely depend on the weather. We’ve seen the Renaissance Club put up a stiff fight when the wind blows, like in 2020, when the winning score was a mere 11-under par, but last year conditions were calmer and the birdies were flowing, with 34 players finishing the week at 10-under or better. The forecast for this week looks decent so far, with winds projected to hover in the 15-20 mph range, but the weather can turn on a dime in this part of the world, so I’d advise keeping a sharp eye on the situation as the week progresses.
The course has played to a par 71 in years past, but the decision was made to turn the par-5 7th into a 505-yard par-4, so this year it’ll be a par-70 that measures around 7,230 yards. The green complexes at the Renaissance Club are trickier than you see at most links courses, with severe undulation in spots and plenty of runoff areas and difficult-to-find pin positions. That said, some players will be able to overpower the place if the wind lays down, and though the rough is quite penal in spots, it won’t matter as much if guys are hitting wedges into the greens. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen some links specialists prosper here, as expected, but the course has also yielded some low numbers to players without a lot of links experience, so if someone has been really striping it and playing well you would think it would translate. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Patrick Cantlay (29.0)- While Cantlay isn’t known as a links specialist, he’s certainly shown the ability to compete at a high level on links courses, such as his 12th-place finish in the 2018 Open at Carnoustie, or if we want to turn the clock back further, his successful run at the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen. Still, it can’t be denied that Cantlay lacks the links experience of many of his competitors this week, and this will be his first time seeing the Renaissance Club in competition. That said, he’s an absolute ball-striking machine who has been humming along quite nicely lately, finding the top-15 in 5 of his past 6 starts, a stretch that includes a runner-up finish at the Heritage, a T3 at the Memorial, and a victory in the Zurich team event. He’s a great driver of the golf ball, ranking 16th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee, and the Renaissance Club is tight off the tee in spots. Critically, his putting, which has long been considered a weakness, has been tremendous this season, as he ranks 18th on Tour in strokes gained putting. All things considered, a price like 29.0 feels like great value for a player of Cantlay’s class and current form.
Ryan Fox (48.0)- A six-year European (DP) Tour veteran with two wins on his resume, including one in February of this year, Fox has a fairly distinguished record on links courses for someone of his stature. He nearly won the 2018 Irish Open at Ballyliffin, losing to Russell Knox in a playoff, and he set the record for the lowest back nine in Open Championship history (29) at Royal Portrush in 2019. More importantly, he’s currently playing the best golf of his career, having logged a victory, three runner-up finishes, and three other top-10 finishes across his last 10 starts. Just last week he was runner-up at the Irish Open at Mount Juliet, carding rounds of 64 on both Thursday and Sunday to finish three shots back of winner Adrian Meronk, and he finished 3rd in his previous start, the BMW International. A win this week would be life-changing for Fox, for sure, but he’s been on the type of heater that changes careers, and he certainly wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down in Ireland last week. He’s tough to ignore at nearly 50/1.
Robert MacIntyre (92.0)- The 25-year old MacIntyre will definitely be feeling the gallery love in his national open, and as someone who grew up in a coastal Scottish town, he’s as well-acquainted with the mysteries of links golf as anyone in the field. He seems to have worked his way out of a swing funk that led to a couple of poor performances and was looking like his old self in Ireland last week, shooting 11-under over four days at Mount Juliet to finish 13th, his best showing on the DP World Tour since February. So he comes into this week with a bit of confidence and a bit of game, and we know he likes it at the Renaissance Club, where he’s broken 70 in 7 of his last 8 competitive rounds while recording back-to-back top-20 finishes in this tournament. If you think that sounds like a pretty strong resume for someone who can currently be had at better than 90/1, you’re not alone.