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Simon Dyson is in the best form of his life and he can continue his progress up the world rankings by contending at the Dunhill Links Championship this week. Padraig Harrington is returning to the place of former glories and after positive signs last week he is advised to finish in the top 5 in a tournament being staged at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. I’m giving Joost Luiten another chance and recommending him for a top 10 finish again.
This is a complex tournament played over the three courses mentioned above on the east coast of Scotland. It is the only pro-am played on the European Tour. Teams of one pro and one amateur play each course in rotation over the first three days. A cut is then made after which the top 60 professionals and the top 20 teams progress to play the final round at St Andrews.
The Old Course at St Andrews is the easiest course with wide open fairways. The 17th, the road hole, is arguably the most famous hole in world golf. It is a tough a par four you could find anywhere and always plays above par when The Open is staged at the home of golf. There are only two par 3s and two par 5s but several of the middle length holes are reachable if the wind is blowing in the right direction.
Carnoustie is another classic links course which last staged the Open in 2007. It has just two par 5s and three par 3s. Kingsbarns is a highly regarded course exposed to the wind. There is the usual quota of par 3s and par 5s in a total par of 72.
The logistical nightmare of a tournament is now a well established event. It often plays a major role in determining the Order of Merit winner. Inevitably luck can play a big part in this tournament as a player can get the worst of the weather one day and then find his rivals face the same course in benign conditions just 24 hours later.
It is an advantage to play St Andrews on Saturday so that a player can carry forward a feel for the course into the final round. Playing that course on day one seems to be a disadvantage but regardless of the rotation weather is a key element at this time of year. There are always local climate variations but the forecast for the area looks excellent with no appreciable wind and rain forecast just on Sunday.
While a whole host of sport, film and television celebrities test their skills on the three courses in Scotland the pros will be aiming to win one of the most prestigious events on the calendar. Martin Kaymer will defend the title he won 12 months ago amongst five of the top six in the world rankings, including the German himself.
For Harrington the tournament will represent another opportunity to test his new swing in tournament conditions. He has said how much he loves the format of the event. He believes the company of an amateur will keep the complex swing processes out of his head. He can chat to his amateur partner and he is not fazed by the long rounds which are a feature of the event.
He is a proven links player having won this tournament in 2006 and the Open at Carnoustie the following year. He made the cut at the Austrian Open last week, without getting in contention. However, he showed enough to have a good week in Scotland. I don’t think he’s ready to win again but a top 5 finish is well within his capabilities.
My idea of the winner is Simon Dyson who is the type of carefree bloke to relish partnering some major or minor celebrity. He wouldn’t seem out of place in Strictly Come Dancing or I’m a Celebrity. However, there is more than a fun loving persona to this player. He has won two tournaments this year and now stands at a career high 30 in the world rankings.
Dyson won this tournament in 2009 and had another top 5 finish last year. He is clearly suited to the format and course conditions and will have no reservations if this turns into a putting contest. The gregarious Yorkshireman has everything in his favour this week and he may well record another win.
Joost Luiten is a regular feature of my tournament analysis. He was advised last week and was only a five foot putt away from making a playoff. The quality of the field this week has much greater depth than last week’s entry list in Austria. Luiten will win a tournament over the next two years but maybe not this week. However, he is playing well enough to record another top 10 finish.
Nick Watney is the class act in this week’s Justin Timberlake Shriners Open on the US Tour and can’t be left out of the staking plan. Martin Laird is a former winner and runner-up so he can’t be ignored on a course that is clearly well suited to his game. Ryan Moore played well in the FedEx Cup play-off series and is another player with positive memories of the course.
After the multi-million pound purses in the play-off series we now enter the Fall events. Most of the leading players will be out of action for several weeks so it’s a surprise to see Watney in the field. Players will be competing to earn enough money to keep their card and playing privileges for next year.
The tournament has had six name changes over the years but has always been staged at the TPC course at Summerlin near Las Vegas. Despite changes to the course and reduction of par this tournament generally develps into a putting contest. Summerlin has been the easiest pat 71 on tour for the last two years.
The course features large greens so there is a premium on putting. The greens have ranked inside the top five easiest to hit in regulation since 2008. This event will be a shoot-out and it has produced several first time winners. When Jonathan Byrd won last year he ended a streak of six consecutive maiden winners, four of which were rookies.
The course’s only defence against low scoring can be some wind. However, the temperatures are forecast to rise into the nineties, with only moderate wind and a slight threat of rain. The average winning score over the last six years is 22 under, a very high number for a par 71 layout.
Watney can have hot streaks with the putter. He has already played a back nine in 27 strokes which helped him win the AT & T National in July. He has also won a World Golf Championship event this year and now stands at number 11 in the world rankings. He is the only player in the top 30 in the latest world standings competing this week.
Martin Laird lost in the play-off to Byrd last year when the latter player had a hole in one to clinch the title. Laird has averaged 66 strokes in his last eight rounds at Summerlin and he has no better record on any other course on the schedule.
The selection played in the four play-off events so he’s obviously in decent form. He never really got in contention over the last four weeks but played well enough to qualify for the Tour Championship, open to just the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings.
George McNeil may not be a familiar name but his form on this week’s course is exemplary. He won the tournament in 2007 and has top 15s in each of his four appearances at Summerlin. He has had four top 10s this season and finished second on two occasions. He looks likely to get in the mix again and another top 10 finish is the least of his capabilities this week.