The Johnnie Walker Championships returns to the majestic surroundings of Gleneagles in Perthshire this week where Edoardo Molinari defends the title. A strong field has assembled to do battle over the course that will play host to the Ryder Cup in 2014.

Last year’s Johnnie Walker Championship witnessed great excitement as the top European players battled to secure the final few places available in Colin Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup side that went on to claim victory over the US at Celtic Manor.

Edoardo Molinari earned himself one of the “wildcard” picks by producing a scintillating finish to win the event. The Italian birdied the final three holes including a snaking putt across the 18th green. It was enough for Molinari to sneak past Brett Rumford of Australia by a single shot.

A year on, Molinari is back to defend the title and is looking forward to teeing it up again on Scottish soil – he’s also a former Scottish Open winner.

“I like playing in Scotland, and I’m sure the Scottish crowds will be unbelievable to me again, just like they were last year,” he said. “They are the most knowledgeable crowds that we play in front of.”

Edoardo will be joined in the field at Gleneagles by his brother Francesco and another 2010 Ryder Cup star Ross Fisher. 2010 viice captains – Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley will also tee it up and so, of course, will Monty. The big man is the tournament chairman and he lives just a few miles up the road from Gleneagles.

“I’m eager to get playing again so it’s with great excitement that I look forward to the start of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles,” he said.

Montgomerie is currently 96th on the Race to Dubai standings so he needs a great result at Gleneagles to have a chance of making it into the top-60 so as to qualify for the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

Others just outside the top-60 right now and looking for a boost up the rankings this week are Korea’s Seung-yul Noh at 61st and Chris Wood, Peter Lawrie and Gary Boyd at 63rd, 64th and 65th respectively

Last week’s winner Oliver Fisher will be looking to continue his run of form. The young Englishman missed 16 straight cuts on the European Tour between February and July this year but burst back into the limelight with a fantastic victory in the Czech Open at the Prosper Resort.

One man who isn’t on the start sheet is Tiger Woods. Monty extended the former World Number 1 an invite to play in the tournament after he failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour but it seems Woods has declined the offer.

The Centenary course opened for play in 1993. A Jack Nicklaus design, it was originally known as the Monarchs Course. Significant alterations have been made to the layout over the years and further changes have been made this year as part of the ongoing development of the layout ahead of the 2014 Ryder Cup – The 7th green has been re-contoured and further drainage works completed. The resort is trialling a SubAir system under the 10th green which is proving successful and may lead to it being rolled out across the other holes on the course.

The Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland
Date: Aug 25-28
Course stats: par 72, 7,316 yards
Purse: £1,400,000
Defending Champion: Edoardo Molinari (-10)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 25 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 10.30am
Friday 26 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 10.30am
Saturday 27 – Live on Sky Sports 4 from 1pm
Sunday 28 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 12pm

Player Watch:
Anders Hansen – The Dane was third in the PGA Championship and threatened at the Open until a disappointing final round. He’s a streaky player and, when on form, there are few better. Watch out for him to make a hatful of birdies this week.

Simon Dyson – The winner of the Irish Open and another European who performed well in the recent WGC – Bridgestone Invitational and the USPGA Championship. He was sixth in this tournament last year.

Ross Fisher – He’s threatened to return to form in recent weeks. He was in contention for the Irish Open but faded over the weekend. He’s far too good a player to stay away from the winner’s circle for long so this could be the week he makes his return.

Key hole: 16th. A strong par 5 of 543 yards, water in front of the green means going for the green in two can be a dangerous option. Certainly reachable for most of the field, it could witness a crucial eagle come Sunday afternoon. But, with the threat of the hazard, it may also end of a few hopes.

Where next?
Golf Monthly –
September issue now on sale