At last, the best fortnight of the year is upon us. Ahead of next week’s Open, we have the Barclays Scottish Open at stunning Loch Lomond, boosted by the best field in this already top-class event’s history.
In fact the presence of most leading Europeans and numerous PGA Tour stars is a massive compliment, because history suggests that this is an ill-advised warm-up for the Open. Since the Loch Lomond Invitational was first set up in 1996, no champion has followed up at the Open. Of the nine champions this century, only two even went on to make the top-10. So it may turn out that the big-names to follow next week are those who have opted for a week off instead, enabling them to fine-tune their links golf skills.
Nevertheless, there are several serious Open candidates at Loch Lomond, not least British trio IAN POULTER, RORY MCILROY and ROSS FISHER. World No.6 Geoff Ogilvy is the highest-ranked player in the field, and the leading candidate amongst a strong team of PGA Tour raiders including 2009 winners Brian Gay, Rory Sabbatini and Nick Watney, plus dangerous top-class performers Camilo Villegas, Robert Allenby and Boo Weekley.
Given that Loch Lomond is essentially a target golf course, the likes of which are regularly seen in the States, any of these overseas players are much more likely to win here than they are next week on a tough links. However, in the final analysis, none look as strong as that British trio, all of whom are improving fast and look winners waiting to happen.
Poulter produced another top-class effort in France, relentlessly hitting greens in regulation to come back from an almost impossible early position. His current run reminds me very much of Paul Casey’s 2008 form. Then, Casey similarly ran up a series of consistent, top-10 efforts and some outstanding long-game stats. I backed him repeatedly, without much success, at decent prices and eventually after a few months his luck turned and three wins followed. Poulter is overdue, and Loch Lomond appears the perfect opportunity. His last six visits all produced top-25 finishes, including four top-10s. And he is a much better player now than he was when achieving any of them.