As always, the bonny banks of Loch Lomond provide a picturesque setting for the first half of the most significant fortnight in British golf. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that this is nothing like a links layout, no Scottish Open champion has ever followed up at The Open. Which may explain why the likes of Woods and Harrington always swerve this vast prize fund in favour of JP McManus’ pro-am. Even without that lot, we still have a world-class field including seven of the world’s top-20, headed by Phil Mickelson.
Since taking this slot on the schedule in 1996, Loch Lomond has produced numerous world-class champions, though three of the last six did start the week at well over 100/1. Leaderboards here have always tended to be predictable, and that trend shows little sign of abating. Half of the players to reach the top-five from 2005 onwards started the week below 50/1, whereas less than a third were triple-figured outsiders.
Course and stats
Rain and fairly strong winds are forecast at least for Thursday and Friday; the strength and timing of which could be pivotal. There is every chance of delays, making the draw even more significant than usual, though it is hard to estimate precisely which section will benefit this far ahead. The other crucial effect could be to soften the course, taking the sting out of fast greens and offering a further advantage to the longer hitters.
However, while length has always been important, this par 71 is a classic ‘second shot’ layout, that rewards the best iron approach play. Hence that high percentage of market leaders in the places, who tend to be the best long-iron exponents. Greens in regulation has proved by far the most important stat historically, to which I would add total driving, due to this year’s conditions.
Betting selections
2pts ew RETIEF GOOSEN @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
So long as we’re prepared to overlook the fact that Goosen has become strangely unreliable over the past couple of years, his claims are impossible to ignore. Indeed, this won’t be the first time I’ve backed the Goose at Loch Lomond, because he absolutely loves it here, winning the title in 2001 and registering five top tens. He held the lead last year before an inexplicably poor final day. Nevertheless, despite regular blips like this, each-way backers would have yielded a hefty profit over the past year or so, and finishes no worse than 15th on his last four non-Major starts point to more of the same. Crucially, whereas most will struggle in bad Scottish weather, conditions should be absolutely perfect for Goosen.
2pts ew ROSS FISHER @ 30/1 (GENERAL)
With three straight top 25s here, Ross stands out as a likely future winner of this title. In order to do so, he’ll need to start holing a few more putts than lately, though equally, finishing runner-up without holing very much on his penultimate start shows his long game is strong enough right now. These next few weeks are pivotal for Fisher’s season, particularly in so far as making the Ryder Cup team is concerned, so I’m hoping he’ll rise to the challenge. He’s another well suited to bad weather golf.
1pt ew THOMAS BJORN @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
Though it hasn’t escaped the attention of bookies, Bjorn appears to be back to somewhere near his best. His last three efforts were all top 20s, including an outstanding runaway win in Estoril. If repeating those excellent long game performances, Bjorn will rate a massive candidate at Loch Lomond, a course where he has plenty of previous. He won the inaugural event here in 1996, was runner-up five years later and made the frame as recently as 2006. Even when his game has been in the doledrums, Thomas has tended to at least make the cut.
Players driving it long and straight tend to thrive around this layout, which bodes well for Willett. He topped the total driving stats when finishing fifth in France last week, and looks as strong as anyone in that department right now. This outstanding prospect put up a strong show in the last prestigious British event at Wentworth; a course that I would have thought suited him less than this one. Two missed cuts previously can be overlooked because of inexperience, and as a Yorkshireman, he should have plenty of experience of bad weather golf.
1pt ew CHRIS WOOD @ 70/1 (GENERAL, 80/1 LADBROKES)
During his short career, Wood has already shown he can handle bad weather, most memorably when making the top-five on his first two attempts at The Open. Along with some consistent recent figures, that must bode well for his Loch Lomond debut. A few weeks ago, when Chris was all the rage with punters following three straight top sixes, I was advising against a bet because he has yet to prove his mettle under pressure. However, then he was amongst the favourites, yet a slight dip in form sees him back at the tasty quote of 70/1. That is simply too big about a first-time winner-in-waiting, who has had few peers in the long game department recently.