It is time for the European Tour to return to Scotland for the ever popular, Alfred Dunhill Links, which is the European equivalent of its PGA Tour counterpart, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The event features three courses, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns Golf Links and the Old Course at St.Andrews and those that make the Saturday cut will play the Old Course again on Sunday.
Rory McIlroy is the star attraction this week, headlining a typically strong field as he looks to put together a strong finish to an otherwise frustrating season. After finishing runner-up to maiden winner, Paul Dunne at the British Masters last week he looks in good form to do just that and win an event he has previously excelled in without winning.
The courses and what it will take to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
Carnoustie – 7,345 yards, Par 72 – Course Record: 64 (Five players)
Kingsbarns Golf Links – 7,227, Par 72 – Course Record: 60 (Braden Grace 2012 & Peter Uihlein 2013)
Old Course at St.Andrews – 7,307, Par 72 – Course Record: 62 (Six players)
Unsurprisingly, Carnoustie plays the toughest of the three courses over the week, whilst players generally look to take advantage of their round on the shorter, Kingbarns Golf Links. The gap in yardage is not as big now as it was in the past but the scoring should still follow suit as it has done in the past.
Links form and a good putting week is generally the recipe for success in this championship, so it is worth looking not just at the course form over these three courses, but other links courses also.
Patience will be key this week as it always is in this event, but with rough weather forecast and the long rounds that occur due to the amateur playing partners, it is going to feel like a very long week come Sunday.
Plenty of birdies will need to be made to win this event and if you struggle around Carnoustie as so many do, you must take advantage of Kingsbarns and the Old Course. The average winning score here over the last five years is -20.6 so the 20-under-par/21-under-par mark is generally the target this week.
As you can see from the course records above, Kingsbarns and the Old Course can really be got at and yield some low scores, whilst a 64 at Carnoustie is also very impressive given how tough it can play. The weather forecast this week suggests these records should remain intact, given the blustery conditions the players will face in the event this week.
The Market Leaders
Rory McIlroy is the worthy 6/1 favourite this week, given his form at this event which has seen him finish runner-up three times and inside the top-10 five times in total. His effort last week at the British Masters suggests McIlroy is ready to put a difficult year behind him and finally get the win his form in this event deserves.
Behind clear favourite McIlroy sit; Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrell Hatton, Branden Grace and Matthew Fitzpatrick, whom the bookies cannot separate, all sitting between the 20-1-to-25/1 mark.
Hatton won here last year after missing his first two cuts in this event, so Fitzpatrick will be hoping for similar fortunes, after he missed his second cut in a row in this event last year.
Fleetwood has five top-15’s, including three top-5’s in this event since his debut in 2011 and will be looking for a return to form after the birth of his son last week capped of a huge year for the Englishman.
Grace not only holds the course record at Kingsbarns (60) but also shot a 62 during the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale this year, which was a major championship record. A winner here on debut in 2012, it is obvious why Grace is near the head of the betting, despite some modest form (one top-20) in this event since.
Irishman, Lowry has two top-6 finishes as well as a pair of top-20’s in this event but whilst his current form makes a strong case this week, I see no reason for him to be ahead of so many in the betting this week.
Outsiders such as Oliver Wilson and Michael Hoey have won here in recent years so it is definitely worth chancing some outsiders this week, especially if they have shown form on links courses.
Here are my selections for the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
Chris Wood 33/1 ******Withdrew Wednesday******(Betfred) 1pt e/w:
Sitting just adrift of the favourites this week is Englishman, Chris Wood who has learned to love this event after a slow start.
Wood missed this event last year but since 2012 his form reads 15-7-9-4 and that 4th in 2015 suggests he is clearly capable of winning at an event that should have always suited his game.
He is well known for his ability to play links golf, thanks to his T5 finish at the Open Championship as an amateur in 2008, which he followed up a year later finishing T3 in the same event, so it was surprising that he missed four straight cuts here as well as at the 2010 Open, before his current run of good results.
Due to an unfortunate run of injuries, Wood is still sitting on three European Tour wins but should he find a way of managing these fitness issues, there is a good chance he doubles that tally in the not too distant future, hopefully starting here.
When Wood does win he wins big, claiming victories at both the BMW PGA Championship and the Qatar Masters, either side of his win at the Lyoness Open. His win at the Qatar Masters gives further credit to his chance here, with Doha GC proving a solid correlating course over the years.
Wood at full fitness is a threat most weeks on the European Tour and especially so in an event that he now clearly enjoys. With finishes of T9 and T26 in his last two starts he looks to be in fine form heading into this one and generally speaking his form over the season warrants another win.
Top 5’s at both the Nordea Masters (T2) and the Volvo China Open (T4) show he has managed to contend throughout the year, despite another injury-threatened season, whilst a trio of top-20’s at the Open Championship, Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters suggest he is still finding form in other big events on his schedule.
A mix of current and event form, with the obvious winning potential Wood possesses makes Wood a solid prospect at 33/1.
Richard Sterne 55/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w:
South African, Richard Sterne is a six-time European Tour winner but will come into this week looking for his first win in over four years.
Sterne’s current form suggests he may not have to wait much longer to get that elusive seventh European Tour victory.
Like many of his compatriots, Sterne is generally most comfortable playing at home with four of his six wins coming in South Africa but wins in both Spain and Wales suggests he can win on his travels as well.
In the 21 events Sterne has played since finishing T2 here 12 months ago, he has missed just four cuts and has three top-10’s in that spell. The most recent of those top-10’s came in the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre last month and he followed that T9 finish up with finishes of T20 in Portugal and T31 at the British Masters last week.
Despite initially struggling at this event, Sterne now boasts top-6 finishes in each of his last two starts here and can continue that trend this week, as he looks to capitalise on some decent form.
At 55/1 you are getting a player that knows full well how to win and looks in good shape arriving at an event he has now started to prosper in.
Joakim Lagergren 90/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w:
Joakim Lagergren is still searching for his first European Tour victory but his three best finishes on Tour have come at the Qatar Masters (2nd) and this very event where he has twice finished 4th.
The Qatar Masters finish is pleasing given how well form at Doha GC seems to carry over and that coupled with his impressive form here makes him an intriguing selection. After following up his 4th place finish on debut in 2015, with the exact same result a year later, he is made it clear the first time was no fluke.
Despite missing four cuts in his last six events, a top-10 at the KLM Open where Lagergren co-led after two rounds just a couple of starts ago suggests Lagergren is playing well enough to navigate an event he has enjoyed success at already.
The Swede is obviously a player who struggles with consistency but when he is on, he is more than capable of going low and that inconsistency is clearly built into his price this week. If he were any more consistent over the last few weeks he would surely be shorter than 90/1 and as such, I think he is worth chancing at what looks a more than fair price.
Benjamin Hebert 150/1 (Betfred, Ladbrokes and SkyBet) 0.5pt e/w:
Benjamin Hebert is a very talented golfer, who like Lagergren is looking for his first European Tour title. There are however two differences that favour Hebert this week. The first is that the Frenchman has six Challenge Tour wins to Lagergren’s one and secondly Hebert has been very consistent in recent weeks, making seven straight cuts with two top-8 finishes in that span.
A T8 finish at the Irish Open kicked off his current run of made cuts and a T6 finish in Denmark three starts later suggests his game is in fine shape.
Hebert has previously been a perennial winner on the Challenge Tour so clearly has the formula to win, he just needs to take the next step and win on the big stage. Not only is he a multiple winner on the Challenge Tour, he is the only player to have a three-win season in two separate years so there is no doubting his ability and he will be looking to make the next step sooner rather than later.
A 4th place finish in 2015 suggests this test could suit him this week, especially when he has plenty of current form behind him and a T10 in the Qatar Masters in the same year gives extra reason for optimism, even if the weather this week gives reason for concern.
This is an event that has been kind to outsiders in recent seasons, so there is no reason to dismiss Hebert at an attractive price.
Total points staked this week: 7 (5 after Wood withdrawal)
Profit/Loss for 2017: -26