Here we are again, the last tournament before major week, and this time we are in, Inverness, Scotland for the Scottish Open, the last tournament on the European Tour before the third major of the year, the Open Championship. This will give players one last opportunity to fine tune their games, ahead of what promises to be an exciting week at Muirfield in 10 days time. The Scottish Open itself however has a rich history, and boasts a superb list of past winners, with many top players contending  for the top prize. This year is the last time the event will be held at Castle Stuart, as it’s set to move to highly regarded Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in 2014. Royal Aberdeen Golf Club has hosted both the 2005 Senior British Open in 2005, as well as the 2011 Walker Cup, and will look forward to playing host to one of most popular events on the European Tour.

Enough of the future, let’s stay in the present, and the Scottish Open this week sees a mixture of the top players on this seasons European Tour, plus two PGA Tour regulars in the form of Michael Thompson and Phil Mickelson as well as this years Challenge Tour’s hot talent Brooks Koepka. Brooks is now a fully fledged European Tour player, after securing his third Challenge Tour win of the season at the Scottish Hydro Challenge, thus giving him automatic membership to the Tour. One day later Koepka managed to win an Open Qualifier event, to seal his place in next weeks Open Championship at Muirfield, he is a player full of confidence and it will be good to see the young American test himself against some of the World’s best players. It is widely known that Phil Mickelson likes to play the week before a Major Championship, and this week is no different. He missed the cut at the Greenrbier Classic last week, for the 3rd time at the event and he will be keen to get that out of his mind and put in a good performance this week at Castle Stuart. He was T16 last year, and T58 the year before that, so he can navigate his way around the Scottish links course, and this week comes in at 20/1 just behind the well fancied Ernie Els, who is 18/1. Both players will expect to have a good week, and money will no doubt come in for both players, however for me Els will be a better bet next week, when he looks to defend his Open crown. I wouldn’t rule either player out, but at the same time, these two being in the field only adds to the value of other players that could easily oppose them this week. Let’s take a look at the course, and the player who will be defending their crown this week.

The Course: Castle Stuart, 7,193 Yards, Par 72. Castle Stuart is a links course, which, like Links courses do offer generous fairways, but also punishing hazards should you get your shots completely wrong. Players who often missed the fairways in regular events will look to this week especially to play their 2nd shots from the short stuff, and this will help with their confidence. With bunkers dotted around the course,  plus 7 holes that run adjacent to the Moray Firth (section of the North Sea), there is certainly trouble to be found. A big part of Links golf is the different type of approach when trying to find the green, instead of the usual high approaches, coupled with backspin, players will be trying to hit low accurate shots, whilst using the natural contours and slopes of the course to get the ball close the hole, also known as “bump and run”. Although the fairways are generous, with the course being so exposed to wind, players can find trouble off the tee, as Alex Noren did last year on his way to making a triple bogey on the 12th Hole, whilst in contention mid way through round 3. Look out for players who have played well on Links courses, as well as players who play well in Scotland, and especially in the past two years here at Castle Stuart. This is the perfect preparation for Muirfield and although it will be a much easier test, highlighted by Luke Donald’s -19 in 2011, even when the event was cut to 54-holes, I was still surprised to see some of the big time players having a week off, instead of playing here. Although you don’t have to play well here the week before the Open to win, it may seem beneficial to play four rounds and test yourself on a similar style course and as I said it does seem strange that players have decided against teeing it up here at Castle Stuart. This should be an event littered with birdies and even though the wind could play it’s part, don’t be surprised to see the winning score just below or even at the -20 mark.

Defending Champion: Jeev Milkha Singh. Unlike Luke Donald just a year previously, Singh came into the Scottish Open in pretty average form, but managed to find four solid rounds of golf on his way to a play-off victory over Italy’s Francesco Molinari. Molinari was the opposite of Singh last year, coming into the event in red hot form, with a 2nd just one week before at the Open De France, as well as a T10 the week before at the Irish Open. Like Molinari, 2011 winner Luke Donald was in great form heading into the week, coming off of 2nd at the Volvo Match Play and a win at Wentworth, so it makes out of form Milkha Singh’s victory seem even more impressive. This was Milkha Singh’s fourth European Tour victory, his first in just under four years, so although he wasn’t in the best form and it had been a while since his win in 2008, it shows the importance of being a playable who’s used to winning when trying to get the job done at the Scottish Open. Edoardo Molinari is the only player in recent years (2010) to get their first European Tour Victory at a Scottish Open, and even he was used to winning, after winning 6 Challenge Tour and 1 Japanese Tour event on top of his 2005 U.S Amateur victory. All signs lead to players with a winning mentality, and with this is mind I’ll be looking at players who know how to win, as well as being known to shoot low when the opportunity arises.

After looking back at everything mentioned, my picks seem all the more obvious than they did even before, and I am confident of a run for our money this week. Last week on both the European and PGA Tour we drew a blank and I will be keen to put that behind us and find you a winner this week. As mentioned previously there is value to be had in this field and I am looking forward to trying to expose it. Here are my picks for this years Scottish Open.

Shane Lowry 40/1 (Coral 1-5) 33/1 (General 1-6) 2pts e/w: Shane Lowry loves a links course, and has also tasted success in recent years. Both his wins have come at courses, where wind exposure has been an issue and set up similar to here at Castle Stuart. His first win came at the Irish Open in 2009, when he won the event as an amateur, beating Robert Rock in a play-off. Fast forward three years and Lowry won for a 2nd time, this time at the Portugal Masters, where he beat another Englishman Ross Fisher by one stroke. He has proved no that he can play well in good company, and beat Ross Fisher who already had four European Tour wins to his name, so he can withstand the pressure. Lowry will relish the challenge this week, as he returns to a course where he has enjoyed relative success, that I can see him only building on this week. He came T11 last year and T14 in 2011, so on his two outings at the course he has finished comfortably inside the top 20, and this week may feel he’s in with a better shot. I say that because back in 2011, he came into the week, with two consecutive missed cuts and then in 2012 had two recent finishes of T51 and T17, whereas this year he looks bang in form. His form figures since the World Match Play are T9, T12, T22 and T5, the T9 coming at the Match Play and the T5 coming most recently at the Irish Open. He knows how to play links style golf, highlighted by his past wins, and also boasts strong current form, playing superbly in all his recent events, especially under the pressure of playing in front if his home fans at the Irish Open last time out. He ticks all the boxes, he can shoot low and has proved with past results at this course, that the type of golf that will need to be played suits him. At 40/1 he looks great value and comes in as the top pick this week.

Branden Grace 50/1 (Boylesports 1-6) (Coral 1-5) 1.5pts e/w: Even before looking deeply into the Scottish Open, I had Grace in mind, and this was for two main reasons. Firstly Branden Grace is a proven winner, so proven that he managed to win four times on the European Tour last year and secondly due to his “expertise” on links courses. Last year he won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, with a tournament record score of -22, as well as the Volvo China Open, which is played at Binhai Lake Golf Club, another links course, where again he shot low (-21). This proves not only does Grace know how to win, he knows how to win on links golf courses, as well as being able to shoot low, ticking three vital boxes this week. Last year Grace played in his first Scottish Open, and finished a disappointing T68, however he did win in Scotland later in the year, as mentioned when winning at the Alfred Dunhill Links, so he can be forgiven for that result. Another thing mentioned when looking for a winner, was the players form coming into the event and Grace’s isn’t too bad. Apart from a disappointing 2nd round at the U.S Open when he shot an 83, Grace has been fairly consistent, ever since finishing T18 in the Masters. Since Augusta Grace has form figures of T33, T3, T24 and a missed cut, the missed cut was at the U.S Open and plenty of players struggled that week at Merion, so I’m more interested in his other form. His T33 came when trying to defend his Volvo China Open title, and his week never really got going, he opened with a round of 74, but managed to bounce back with a 67 again highlighting his ability to play links tracks. He followed that by coming T3 in the Volvo Match Play at the new course Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria another links style course. Last but not least his most recent event apart from the U.S Open was his T24 finish at Wentworth, where he, alongside the rest of the field had to deal with testing conditions and he played well all things considered. To summarise Grace looks overpriced to me at 50/1 considering his recent winning history and his obvious ability to play links golf, and I hope the two factors combine here, en route to him having a good week at Castle Stuart. Both he and Lowry come in at the top of my picks and I expect both of them to challenge strongly here.

Brooks Koepka 80/1 (Coral) 1.5pts e/w: Yes I am tipping Brooks Koepka here, at what is only his 2nd full European Tour event and for good reasons. Although he has played in two co-sanctioned events on the Challenge and European Tour, the Madeira Islands Open where he came T24 and the Najeti Hotels Open where he finished T10, he has only played in one fully fledged European Tour event, the Joburg Open. Back in February Brooks travelled to South Africa to participate in the Joburg Open, only to miss the cut, however since then his year has turned around in dramatic fashion. The very next week he played in Kenya on the Challenge Tour and came T5 and since then he has looked very, very comfortable. It took until May to get his first win on Tour, when he won the Montecchia Golf Open, with a score of -23, go a further month down the line and Koepka wins again, this time in Spain at the Fred Olsen Challenge, where he won by 10 strokes with a score of -24. You can see where this is going, one week later and he posts another low score -16, which was only good enough for T7, a disappointment in the young American’s eyes. Two weeks on and in what was ultimately his last event on the Challenge Tour he shoots -18 at the Scottish Hydro Challenge, to win his 3rd event of the year and gain automatic promotion to the European Tour. A few things stick out for me when weighing up his chances of winning this week, and they all turned out to be positive. He has already proved that he can shoot low, he already has a win in Scotland to his name and he’s also not looking beyond this event. Yes his win in Scotland came on the Challenge Tour, but returning to a country you’ve already enjoyed success so recently certainly won’t do your confidence any harm. You may also ask how I know he’s not looking ahead of the Scottish Open, well when I asked Claude Harmon III, Koepka’s coach and Koepka himself if they were ready for Muirfield on Twitter, Koepka simply replied with “getting ready for the Scottish first!”.  This to me suggests that Koepka is not getting too far ahead of himself, and is taking this event as serious as possible. Take all this how you will, but at 80/1 for a player who has three wins already this year (four in total) albeit on a lesser Tour, I truly believe he represents value this week, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason why he can’t go well here. Yes it’s a gamble on how he copes with the added attention and pressure, but for me I think he’ll strive under it, and watching his fellow countryman and good friend Peter Ulhein do so well on Tour this year only adds to the confidence.

Robert-Jan Derksen 150/1 (PaddyPower) 1pt e/w: Robert-Jan Derksen is my outside pick this week, and although there were quite a few to choose from, he for me just stuck out from the rest, especially at what looks like a very big price. Although he hasn’t won on Tour since 2005 and he is slowly approaching 40, he has shown signs this season that suggest he may still have what it takes to get back in the winners circle, and no event seems to offer a better chance than the Scottish Open this week. He already has a top-10 and a top-5 finish to his name this season, and one of those finishes in particular interests me. His 4th place finish at the Volvo China Open earlier in the year was one of the deciding factors to picking him this week, as it is as previously mentioned played at a links golf course. Branden Grace won the event last year, when Derksen posted another respectable finish, coming T18, so that’s one links course he has proved he can play. The other course is the very course we are playing at this week Castle Stuart, he came T24 here last year, and T14 in 2011, supporting the suggestion that he’s suited to this style of play and if he can find that bit extra this time around he could find himself bang in contention. Although his current form has been up and down recently he did come T10 at the BMW International Open at the end of last month, an event that boasted a quality field, and more recently his T29 on a tough golf course last week in the Open De France. He has shown good form where I’ve wanted him too this year and he looks set for another good result here at the Scottish Open and hopefully his decent start to the season can give him the boost he needs to go further here in Scotland. At 150/1 he seemed a good player to have onside, and I really do give him a good chance this week.

Points staked on European Tour this week: 12

Total points staked (inc PGA Tour): TBC

Profit/Loss for 2013: 105.9

I’m looking to put last week behind us, and I am really confident we can do that here at the Scottish Open. This week, if nothing else will be a great insight of what we can expect from the players, playing in the Open, but for me I am really excited about this week and I cannot wait for Thursday!

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