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  • Alistair Tait

Rare chance for Scottish Open to shine

If there’s a positive to come out of this coronavirus mess for the Scottish Open then it’s the fact it takes centre stage this week. It doesn’t have to lie in the shadow of the Open Championship as it has in previous years.

Sponsor Aberdeen Standards Investments will hopefully get as much bang as possible for investing $7 million into the event.

The Scottish Open should be one of the greatest tournaments on the European Tour schedule for obvious reasons. Or maybe reason: it’s held in the Home of Golf, where the game began, in a country with so many great courses it’s hard to travel along either coastline without stumbling across one.

Yet every year the Scottish Open just seems like a the warm up act to the main attraction that is the Open Championship. Despite what some competitors say about the Scottish Open being a big championship in its own right, it never really feels that way. Almost everyone concerned takes part with one eye firmly on the following week.

Often times it seems the majority of players use the event as a practice tournament for The Open. That’s perhaps understandable given so few tournaments these days are played on traditional links. Players talking about enjoying the chance to play bump and run shots, knock down shots and hoping for a wee breeze to help prepare for the winds they anticipate in the Open Championship.

It’s one reason players like Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Ricky Fowler, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson and others add the Scottish to their schedule. Sadly, the coronavirus and the cancellation of The Open has meant such name players have not made the trip to the Renaissance Club in North Berwick this week. Albeit McIlroy and Stenson may have another reason, as you’ll discover below.

Still, in Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer, Danny Willett, Matt Wallace, Graeme McDowell, Eddie Pepperell, Padraig Harrington, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, defending champion Bernd Wiesberger, and home favourites Paul Lawrie and Robert Macintyre, the tournament has enough star attractions to garner a lot of eyes from golf fans, both at home and around the world.

One of the big question marks this week will be whether the course presents a stiffer test than last year. McIlroy, Harrington, Stenson and Thomas were among the critics who said the course was too easy, not linksy enough and therefore not ideal preparation for the following week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

McIlroy finished T34 on 13-under, nine shots behind Wiesberger and wasn’t a happy bunny when he finished. It wasn’t ideal preparation for trying to win The Open in his homeland. He said:

“I would have liked to have seen it a little more difficult. I’d say if the greens were a foot quicker it would just make a world of difference because you’re not getting punished for missing green on the wrong side. It doesn’t challenge you enough when you miss second shots.”

Stenson was another left feeling short changed on his Open Championship preparation. When asked if the course was a good rehearsal for Royal Portrush, the 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year said:

“No. It is a nice piece of land. The design is not what we are used to seeing when we are talking links.”

Harrington was slightly more diplomatic.

“I like the venue and I like the golf course. It’s nearly too nice a venue, maybe a trickier, more linksy golf course would offer better preparation for next week."

Thomas agreed:

“It’s the modern style of links. It isn’t near as linksy as a lot of courses over here.”

Maybe the frustration came from playing a course lying in the shadow of Muirfield, the world’s greatest links. Maybe there's a deeper, underlying frustration that Scotland's national championship isn't always played on the country's greatest links. After all, Muirfield has never staged the Scottish Open, nor Royal Troon or Turnberry. St Andrews hasn't hosted the event since 1973, while Carnoustie (pictured) has been host venue just twice, in 1995 and 1996.

To be fair to the European Tour, heavy rain in the build up to last year's event made the course softer than it should have been. Four days of little wind didn’t help either. Changes have been made this year to make sure there isn’t a repeat of Wiesberger’s 22-under winning total. Hopefully this year provides a proper test for a proper national championship.

This is a rare chance for the Scottish Open to proudly stand on its own two feet. Just as it should every year.

#JustSaying: “In Britain, you skip the ball, hop it, bump it, run it, hit on top of it and then hope for the right bounce.” Doug Sanders

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