Lowdown:
The European Tour is in Scotland this week for the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. Thomas Bjorn defends the title and the 2012 European Ryder Cup team will be finalised after the event.

Since 2008 this tournament has been the final event on the European Tour schedule offering points towards Ryder Cup qualification. Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium will be chasing the final automatic qualifying spot for José María Olazábal’s team. He’s currently just outside the top-10 guaranteed to go to Medinah, but he could edge past Germany’s Martin Kaymer with a victory here.

Olazábal will also announce his two wild card picks on the Monday after this tournament. It’s all up for grabs as Ian Poulter has been pushed out of an automatic place by Sergio Garcia’s victory in the Wyndham Championship. But Poulter isn’t playing at Gleneagles. David Lynn and Rafa Cabrera-Bello are and they will be looking to catch Olazábal’s eye.

It’s appropriate that the team for Chicago should be decided at the venue for the next Ryder Cup to be held on European soil. The Centenary Course will welcome the great biennial match in 2014.

The Johnnie Walker Championship began life named the Scottish PGA Championship back in 1999 and this will be the 14th running of the event. Past winners have included, Paul Casey, Adam Scott and Marc Warren.

In 2010, Edoardo Molinari claimed the title and, effectively, his spot in Colin Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup team for Celtic Manor. Then, last year’s tournament was a thriller, coming down to a five-man playoff. In the end it was Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn who came out on top at the fifth extra hole.

Once again for this year’s event, the Championship organisers have set the Friday ticket price at £5. Gleneagles will donate all the revenue from on-the-day ticket sales to clubgolf, Scotland’s junior golf development programme.

Jack Nicklaus designed the Centenary course and it opened for play in 1993, though at the time it was known as the Monarch’s. Over recent years, the course has undergone a number of changes to perfect the test that will be presented to Europe and the USA’s finest in 2014. Firstly, alterations were made under the guidance of David McLay Kidd, then Jack Nicklaus himself provided further consultation.

The course was closed in October of 2011 and significant work was carried out through last winter: 50,000 tonnes of earth were moved and 30,000 square metres of new turf laid. SubAir, aeration and moisture removal systems were installed on all greens (like they have at Augusta,) and the drainage improved in all the bunkers.

The most dramatic alterations to the layout have taken place on the 9th and 18th holes. On the 9th, the large bunker short, right of the green was removed and the lake extended into the fairway. On the last, the fairway was lowered by 5 metres and a new green constructed to create a natural amphitheatre.

Venue: The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterader, Perthshire
Date: August 23-26
Course stats: par 72, 7,060 yards
Purse: €1,778,500 Winner: €296,119
Defending Champion: Thomas Bjorn (-11)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 23 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 10.30am
Friday 24 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 10.30am
Saturday 25 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 1pm
Sunday 26 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 12pm

Player Watch:

Nicolas Colsaerts – The Belgian will have the bit between his teeth this week and will be desperate to play himself into Jose Maria Olazabal’s team. He played well last week in the States and will look to keep that run going here.

Thorbjorn Olesen – He’s one of the form players on the European Tour right now. He was 9th in the Open Championship, 5th in the Austrian Open then produced a good showing in the USPGA Championship to finish 27th.

Jamie Donaldson – The Irish Open champion will be looking to make it a Celtic double in 2012. He finished an excellent 7th in the USPGA Championship and will be aiming to keep the run going.

Key hole:
9th. The par-5 is now a considerably tougher test with water coming into play in front of the green. It’s now become a real risk-reward hole.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
The Barclays preview