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19th Hole
News and Opinion

Golf Blogs

Date CreatedMost Popular

Sean Donnelly
McIlroy’s resurgence falls short as Lowry consolidates at Portrush
Jul 20, 2019 6:16 AM
 
In the end it was not to be for Rory McIlroy. The 30-year-old endured one the most heart-breaking capitulations in Open history en route to an 8-over opening-round 79 on the occasion of his Portrush homecoming on Thursday. It is a testament, therefore, to the essential capriciousness of golf that on Friday he produced one of the finest rounds of his decorated career, a 6-under 65 studded with six birdies, rich with brilliant drives, chips and putts, that left him a single, agonizing stroke short of making the cut-mark. It was, he said, “one of the most fun rounds of golf” he had ever played and it left him feeling a weird mix of disappointment, pride and gratitude. Liberated from the pressure that accompanied his calamitous opening-round, McIlroy performed with the potent mix of fearlessness, creativity and aggression that characterized the first decade of his professional career. The four-time major winner was 5-under by the time he reached the 13th tee, following a sensational run of three consecutive birdies on the 10th, 11th and 12th. This is what the Open at Portrush means to Rory McIlroy. pic.twitter.com/HM7pFfrGOj— Stephen Watson (@winkerwatson1) July 20, 2019 Roared on by a raucous home support, he appeared extremely well-placed to salvage a Saturday morning tee-time, requiring two birdies on the last three holes. He got one of them right away at the tricky par-three 16th. That was the hard part. But he then blew the easy bit at the straightforward 17th, where he lashed his drive wide right and had to scramble up and down. Thus, it all came down to the Dunluce Links’ invidious 459-yard 18th, statistically the hardest hole of the first two rounds of the tournament. A birdie would guarantee the home favourite a place in the weekend draw; anything less, and he’d be on the first flight back to Florida on Saturday morning. His drive left him every chance. It landed in the middle of the fairway, 200 yards shy of the green. And then he hit the shot that finished it. The ball faded left, rolled into a swale on the short side of the hole. By then, McIlroy required a miracle to make the cut, and not even the good will of the thousands of sympathetic spectators crowding the final green could guide his recovery shot into the hole. Ultimately, the world No. 3 could only tap in for par, and while his Portrush homecoming will inevitably be associated with his disastrous opening-round, he demonstrated admirable resilience and professionalism in rallying so strongly on Friday. McIlroy can consequently depart his boyhood course with a sense of pride intact. “The last week has been an eye-opener for me,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes you’re so far away and you forget about all the people that are cheering you on back home. Then you come and play in front of them. It definitely hit me like a ton of bricks today. “I didn’t know how people were going to react after yesterday, how many people were going to be on the 1st tee. Is it just a lost cause. But to have that many people out there following me, supporting me, cheer-ing my name, it meant the world to me.” Fortunately for the home support, Shane Lowry’s exceptional 4-under 67moved him into a share of J.B. Holmes’ lead, ensuring that there will be some Irish interest at the top-end of the leaderboard. Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood trail that pair by a shot. Cameron Smith, Justin Harding and Justin Rose are tied at minus six. The placing of Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth among those at five under adds further gloss to the scene. We’re in for some weekend’s golf. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Shane Lowry carries home hopes as McIlroy capitulates at Royal Portrush
Jul 19, 2019 3:03 AM
 
In five-years since the R&A confirmed that The Open championship would be returning to Royal Portrush in 2019, scarcely a week passedwithout some media reference to Rory McIlroy’s hopes of lifting the Claret Jug in front of his home support. Such hype, of course, reached fever-pitch over the past fortnight, and for all McIlroy emphasised the benefits of his new mindfulness routine in the lead-up to the tournament, no amount of meditation or juggling could have prepared him for the pressure accompanying his opening tee-shot in front of a packed gallery at 10.34am yesterday morning. He cracked. The 30-year-old’s 8-over opening-round 79, a scorecard comprising two birdies, 12 pars, a bogey, a double bogey, a triple bogey on the par-4 first and quadruple bogey on the par-4 18th, leaves him 13-strokes shy of J.B. Holmes’ overnight lead and in a desperate scrap to make the cut.Indeed, the last time McIlroy opened golf’s oldest major with a 79, in 2013, he lasted only two days; in 16 subsequent Open rounds he had not scored higher than 71. Not ideal https://t.co/7WnTuXrDvf— Evening Standard (@EveningStandard) July 19, 2019 This was a rare instance of an elite-level athlete capitulating under pressure, and no amount of conciliatory rhetoricregarding the ‘resilience’ McIlroy demonstrated during the middle 12-holes of his round can disguise the blunt, unpalatable reality that he choked. Presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to claim the biggest victory of his career, the form competitor in world golf managed to play himself out of the tournament in the space of a single hole. This will take some getting over. “I definitely think if I can put the ball in the fairway tomorrow I can shoot a good enough score to be around for the weekend,” said McIlroy. “Obviously I’m pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 in this golf tournament doesn’t think about winning at this point. But I think I can go out there and shoot something in the mid-60s, be around for the weekend, and then try to play good from there.” Fortunately for the home support, Shane Lowry’s exceptional 4-under 67moved him to within a stroke of Holmes’ lead in outright second, ensuring that there will be some Irish interest at the top-end of the leaderboard. The 31-year-old, who won the North of Ireland Open as an amateur at Portrush in 2004, is enjoying his best season since breaking into the world’s top-20 four-years ago, and sits a single shot ahead of an elite, six man group on 3-under comprising Sergio García, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka. "It's my best opening-round at a major by about eight shots. That was nice," Lowry said. "It was nice to shoot a good score and hopefully I can go out and keep at it the next few days." [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy poised for test of mentality at Royal Portrush
Jul 18, 2019 1:56 AM
 
Cast your mind back to early April when the world’s golfing media was composed almost entirely of content building-up to the opening major championship of the season at Augusta. One of the most widely discussed soundbitesin the lead-up to the tournament unsurprisingly came from Rory McIlroy who responded to a question regarding his increased emotional maturity on the golf course by describing how, under the guidance of the Californian mindfulness guru, Dr Clayton Skreggs, he has adopted a regime of juggling and mind training designed to cultivate a greater calmness under pressure. He raved about the impact of OG Mandino’s influential self-help book, The Greatest Salesman in the World, and appeared to revel in detailing aspects of his newly-adopted meditation routine. "A change of attitude has been one of the biggest keys to how I've played for the first few months of the year”, McIlroy commented. “It's about focusing on the small things and not living or dying by the results. It's about not getting caught up trying to play perfect golf." Inevitably, perhaps, these claims were treated with derision when McIlroy failed to contend en route to a T21 finish at Augusta; ‘he ought to spend more time on the practice greens and less time juggling’ was the deeply unimaginative response of the US television punditocracy. After 68 years, #TheOpen has returned to Northern Ireland@taylormadegolf pic.twitter.com/UxYcVpW8jq — Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) July 17, 2019 However, the Northern Irishman demonstrated impressive psychological fortitudein salvaging a top-10 finish at the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in extraordinary circumstances the following month. And, while he did not require much coolness under pressure to close out a seven-shot victory in Canada inearly June, we witnessed another glimpse of an increased sense of emotional maturity from McIlroy at the US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links the following week. Poised for a Friday-exit, he birdied two of the final-three holes of his second-round to squeeze-in under the cut-mark by a single stroke and went on to finish in a tie for ninth– his eleventh top-10 finish in 13 starts to that point in 2019. Of course, golfers of McIlroy’s calibre are not content merely to contend. Five years on from his fourth major triumph at the US PGA Championship, at Valhalla in 2014, the 30-year-old is acutely conscious that his legacy will ultimately be defined by how the second decade of his major championship career matches-up against the first. However, the psychological grit the Northern Irishman demonstrated in grinding-out top-10s from invidious 36-hole positions at Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach should not be overlooked. In previous years, McIlroy would have allowed his shoulders to slump and mentally checked-out of the tournament in the face of such adversity; one thinks, for example, of his bizarre withdrawalfrom the 2013 Honda Classic with a ‘toothache’. That the world No.3 remained focused and motivated even as victory appeared to be slipping from his grasp is revelatory of a newfound competitive maturity, a factor that may prove decisive as he bids to claim the biggest victory of his career under the full glare of the world’s sporting media at The Open at Royal Portrush this weekend. “It can go one of two ways, right?”,McIlroy reflectedwhen asked how he is handling the pressure at a press-conference on Tuesday. “I’ve always felt I’ve played my best golf when I’ve been totally relaxed and loose and maybe that environment is what I need. But at the same time I can’t just put the blinkers on and pretend that’s not all going on. “If you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it takes a little bit of the pressure off. I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things but at the same time having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more. “This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me, right? This is bigger than me.” The Open returning to Northern Ireland after 61-years is bigger than him, yes; but it will be a lot bigger again if he wins the thing. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Koepka hoping Irish caddie can prove the difference at Portrush
Jul 17, 2019 2:09 AM
 
Another major title, another curiously low-key tenor of media build-up for Brooks Koepka. The 29-year-old became the first golfer in more than three decades to retain the US Open titleat Shinnecock last June; two-months ago, he repeated the same feat at the PGA Championshipat Bethpage Black and finished runner-up at both the 2019 Masters and the US Open to Tiger Woods and Gary Woodland respectively. Ahead of this week’s Open Championship at The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush in County Antrim, however, he claimed that his accomplishments have been undervalued by the media. Koepka has long been perceived to play with a "chip on his shoulder", deriving motivation from the (not entirely unfounded perception) that he has yet to receive due recognition for the scale of his accomplishments at major championship level. Indeed, the world No. 1 has finished first or second in five of the last six major championships and recently avowedthat it is easier to win majors than regular PGA Tour events. ‘Hey, dude, do you mind if I tag along and play a practice round?’ Tiger got denied when he requested a trip around Royal Portrush with Brooks Koepka: https://t.co/G3NQXTUoMk pic.twitter.com/u82zxGGC7R — Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) 16 July 2019 Nevertheless, the Florida-native told a press conference on Tuesdaythat he is over caring what the media thinks of him and professed to be focused fully on his bid to claim a second major victory of the season at Royal Portrush. "I'm over that, I'm over trying to get the recognition," Koepka reflected. "You either like me or you don't, that's life in general. That's not anything I'm too concerned about at this moment. "I think you always have to have a chip on your shoulder, no matter what it is. Every great athlete and every major sport always has one. Over the last year and a half, I just felt like if other guys had done what I had done it would be a bigger deal. "Now it doesn't matter to me. I've got my own chip on my shoulder for what I'm trying to accomplish. I've got my own goals I want to set, and that's where I find I guess my chip. How many majors I want to win, how many wins, my own accomplishments." Koepka has every reason to feel confident of his chances of contending in County Antrim; indeed, his hopes are boosted significantly owing to the fact that his caddie, Ricky Elliott is a Portrush-native who estimates he’s played roughly 1,000 rounds at this week’s venue. Given Portrush has not hosted an Open for 69-years, 90% of the field know nothing of the course; Tiger Woods, for instance, confessed that ‘This is all new to me’. Elliott’s insider-knowledge, therefore, has the potential to prove decisive. “Every hole, I just step up on, ‘You tell me what to do; you’ve played it more than anybody,” Koepka said. “Just let him figure it out. He knows his spots to miss it, the spots to come in from, with different hole locations and different winds. “Definitely have a little bit more confidence having him on the bag this week, knowing this golf course so well.” Koepka will tee-off at 13.04 this afternoon alongside Shubhankar Sharma and Louis Oosthuizen. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2019 British Open betting tips – who can outscore Rory on his home patch?
Jul 16, 2019 2:16 AM
 
The 2019 major championship season concludes with the oldest and arguably the most prestigious of them all this week, the Open Championship. For the first time since 1951, the event is being staged outside of England or Scotland at The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Here follows our three best tips for the tournament. Winner: Rory McIlroy (10/1) Northern Ireland’s own Rory McIlroy fronts-up the betting market at 10/1 for this one – deservedly so. The home favourite grew-up playing Portrush and consequently knows the course like the back of his hand; indeed, he shot a course-record 61 as a 16-year-old, almost exactly 14 years ago, and arrives into County Antrim in the midst of the most consistent form of his decorated career. McIlroy has won two of his last nine tournaments(the Players Championship and the Canadian Open), and while he disappointed somewhat in finishing T34 at the Scottish Open last week, he has totalled 11 top-10s from 14 starts in 2019, posting T21-T8-T9 finishes at the Masters, US PGA Championship and US Open. Perhaps the most persuasive reason to back Rory to end a four-year major championship trophy drought this week derives from the strength of his links form. He claimed his maiden Open at Hoylake in 2014, and although he has been unable to recapture the title, he's finished inside the top-five in each of the last three Opens. “A member of the golf club phoned me and told me, and I thought it was a joke. No one can shoot 61 around Royal Portrush.” Well, it happened, and 16-year-old Rory McIlroy was the one to do it... https://t.co/7pGpVDGY6e pic.twitter.com/vuEf6jHC9m — GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) July 15, 2019 Of course, McIlroy will not have things all his own way in Portrush. World No.1, Brooks Koepka, for instance, has finished first or second in five of the last six major championships and is aiming to surpass Rory’s haul of four majors. World No.2, Dustin Johnson, meantime, has won twice in 2019, posting six further top-10s, including T2 finishes at the Masters and US PGA Championship. However, neither player boasts a particularly strong Open record; indeed, Koepka’s MC-67-10-6-39 run is his weakest at any of the sport’s big four tournaments, while DJ hasn’t finished higher than T20since contending at the PGA Championship in June. If he can keep his nerves in check, there is no reason why McIlroy shouldn’t be able to claim his fifth career major on front of a raucous home support. Top-10: Jon Rahm (16/1) In two-and-a-half decorated seasons as a professional, the Spaniard has amassed an indifferent 59-44-MC record at the Open. This explains why a player with 10 top-10 finishes to his name in his last 15 startscan trade as long as 16/1 to win his maiden major title at Portrush. I see this as exceptional value. After all, just two weeks have passed since Rahm signed for a final-round 62 to win his second Irish Open title in three-yearsat Lahinch Golf Club in County Clare (his seventh title since turning professional in 2017), and consequently arrives into Antrim off the back of an exceptional T3-T2-1 run of form through his last three starts. The 24-year-old ranks fourth on the PGA Tour in 2019for strokes-gained tee-to-green and it is only a matter of time until his game clicks at Open Championship-level. Back him to maintain his exceptional run of results on Irish soil with a top-10 finish. Outsider: Henrik Stenson (35/1) Stenson struggled badly in 2018; while he recorded a solid eight top-10s to two missed-cuts in 26 starts across all Tours, he failed to register a single top-three finish and tumbled from No.9 down to No.26in the Official World Golf Rankings. A run of four missed-cuts to one top-10 through his first 12 starts in 2019 served only to confirm the suspicion held by many commentators that the 43-year-old had entered into a period of irrevocable late-career decline, falling outside of the world’s top-40. In recent weeks, however, Stenson has bucked this trend, following up a T8-T9 run at the Canadian and US Opens with an impressive T4 finish in Scotlandlast week. Stenson is one of the most gifted links players of his generation: he won the Claret Jug in a sensational shootout against Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon in 2016 and owns three further top-three finishesat the sport’s oldest major. The value in backing the veteran is enhanced when one accounts for the fact that nine of the last 12 Open champions have been 35 or older. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Bernd Wiesberger lays down marker for Portrush following Scottish Open victory
Jul 15, 2019 1:35 AM
 
Bernd Wiesberger was little discussed in the lead-up to the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick this week. In retrospect, this was an oversight on the media’s part. The Austrian had done nothing through the course of the first four months of the year to suggest that he was anywhere close to ending a two-season trophy droughtstretching back as far as the Shenzhen Championship in April 2017, missing four cuts and failing to register a single top-10 finish through the course of nine starts. Then came a single-stroke victoryaway from Scotland’s Robert McIntyre at the Made in Denmark Championship in May, elevating Wiesberger from No.161 to No.143 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Since then, the 33-year-old has been producing some of the most consistent golf of his career, following-up a T8 at the Belgian Knockout the subsequent week with a T-16, T2 run through the BMW International Open and Irish Open leading into the event in Scotland. The leaderboard down the final stretch -22 Hébert -22 Wiesberger -19 Johnston (F) -19 Putnam (F) -19 Stenson (F)3 holes to play.#ASIScottishOpen #RolexSeries— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) 14 July 2019 All of a sudden the 2006 Eisenhower Trophy winner appeared in with a serious chance of contending for a sixth career European Tour title at the Renaissance Club. On Sunday, he accomplished that feat, defeating France’s Benjamin Hebert in a twilight play-off to earn a hard-fought victory. Wiesberger started the final day with a two-shot lead but found himself trailing after Hebert carded a stunning closing 62 to set the target at 22 under. The Austrian had edged back ahead with two to play but bogeyed the 17th in a 69 before a par on the third play-off hole handed him a sixth European Tour title. "We just dug in there," said Wiesberger, who missed seven-months of last season with a wrist-injury. "I would have loved to seal it off with a couple of pars coming in but sometimes it just tests you. I'm very grateful for how it turned out. "I've always enjoyed coming to the links, Scottish links, and I've had nice success here in Scotland and it's just really, really nice to be able to stand here with the trophy at the end of the day. It was a long day but somehow I managed. "Being in places where you have no control over what is going to happen next all of last year makes it just a lot sweeter and you appreciate it a lot more." Back up to No.40 in the Official Wold Golf Rankingsand poised atop the summit of the Race to Dubai Standings, Wiesberger is an ominous outsider for next week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Donaldson eyes fairytale Portrush return after strong Scottish Open run
Jul 14, 2019 6:40 AM
 
Jamie Donaldson didn’t have a back-up plan when he was sat at home on his couch nursing a wrist injury that threatened to end his career. There was no college degree to fall back on, no family business on which he could rely for a job. He was just hoping he could get back playing and experiencing some success. Put simply, Donaldson was hoping for a week like he’s having at the $7 million Aberdeen Standard Investment Scottish Openat North Berwick’s Renaissance Course. The 43-year-old has made just one bogey in 54 holes, and a third-round, 6-under 65 has put him in joint fifth place, just five shots off Bernd Wiesberger’s lead heading into the final round. Given Donaldson is making just his seventh start since October and was obliged recently to ponder an alternate career path to professional golf, this has not been a bad week’s work. “I was just hoping I wasn’t done,” he saidafter signing for a third consecutive round in the 60s on Saturday. “I had no Plan B. I just wanted to keep going.” Wales' Jamie Donaldson has made a great start at the Scottish Open.He's carded a 64 (-7 par) through the first 18 holes.Stuart Manley is -4 through his first round. https://t.co/yFpvfFdMAm pic.twitter.com/VnlzG8PVuM— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) 11 July 2019 Indeed, the Welshman arrived in Scotland on the back of four missed cuts and remains winless at all levels of the professional sport in over two years since claiming his maiden Asian Tour title at the Thailand Golf Championship in December 2015. With 14 missed-cuts in his last 26 starts over the past 18-months, it is perhaps unsurprising that he has slumped outside of the world’s top-1000. The obvious question, therefore; did he envisage contending for victory after so much time off with such a serious injury? “You hope, don’t you?” Donaldson said. “You don’t know when you’re off injured when you go out and try to hit balls and you can’t hit any shots. You’re so far off where I am now. But you’ve just got to be patient. I waited seven months to come back and play.” And yet, just over four years have passed since Donaldson, a three-time winner on the European Tour, ranked inside the world’s top-25 and accrued an impressive three-point haul on the occasion of a victorious Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles. Golf is a capricious and fragile career path and one can only hope Donald’s resurgence continues on Sunday, providing him with an unlikely route into next week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush. Such would be a fitting venue for the Welshman to make his elite-level return given he claimed his maiden European Tour title at the same venue at Irish Open in 2012. Sometimes even the cruellest sports produce fairytale endings. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Stenson recapturing best form at Scottish Open
Jul 13, 2019 5:54 AM
 
Henrik Stenson generated a great deal of media interest following his 6-under opening-round 65 at the Scottish Open at North Berwick's Renaissance Club on Thursday; however, such intrigue derived less from the quality of his golf than from the content of his rhetoric. “It is a nice piece of land,” the 2016 Open champion reflected. “As of now, the biggest difference, or the one thing we are not super happy about, is that we have had so much rain and it is getting soft. “You want to be in the mindset of landing a pitching wedge five or six paces short of the pin and skipping forward. But, all of a sudden, they are now spinning back. It’s almost like you have to force yourself in the other direction.” Indeed, the Swede’s 6-under-par total was insufficient for a place in the top-10, while level left you outside the top-100. Put simply, the course was playing too easy and the pros were ripping it up. #HenrikStenson leads criticism of overly ‘soft’ conditions at #ScottishOpen - https://t.co/vji9UKopgH— GolfSmash (@TheGolfSmash) 12 July 2019 This dynamic did not alter much on Friday; indeed, Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger closed with five birdies in a row for a 10-under 61 to seize a share of the absurd 14-under 36-hole lead alongside Erik van Rooyen and Lee Slattery. But although media reaction to the opening two-rounds in North Berwick has focused rightly on the inadequacy of the course set-up, pundits and fans would do well to note, too, the quality of the golf that Stenson is producing. Indeed, the Swede followed-up his opening-round 65 with a 67 on Friday to draw to within four-strokes of the halfway lead at 10-under. He is consequently in with a real chance of ending a two-year trophy drought dating back as far as his triumph at the Wyndham Championship in August 2017. Such would be ideal preparation for next week’s major at Royal Portrush. "It was pretty much copy and paste from yesterday, six birdies, no bogeys and any time you can play 36 holes without dropping a shot is pretty good," said Stenson, who arrived into Scotland off the back of consecutive top-10s at the Canadian and US Opens last month. "It's more target golf than links golf but I am coming from three weeks off so I am trying to find some momentum as well and it's so far, so good. "I want the wind to come up a little bit as I see this as good preparation for next week, although we are obviously playing for a strong title as well. It's a good way to tune up your game so I would have liked a bit more of a tougher test." Stenson struggled badly in 2018; while he recorded a solid eight top-10s to two missed-cuts in 26 starts across all Tours, he failed to register a single top-three finish and tumbled from No.9 down to No.26in the Official World Golf Rankings. We may well be observing the Swede experience a timely return to form in advance of next week’s Open at Royal Portrush. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Stenson leads criticism of overly ‘soft’ conditions at Scottish Open
Jul 12, 2019 2:23 AM
 
The fact that six of the last nine Open champions warmed-up for their major triumph by playing the Scottish Open the previous week is a fine endorsement of the challenge posed by the European Tour’s Rolex Series event. However, the nature of links golf is such that, if conditions are benign, old courses can be rendered defenceless and this is precisely the scenario that played-outat North Berwick's Renaissance Club on Thursday. Indeed, the low nature of the scoring was such that many players were moved to ponder whether this week’s event would provide any meaningful preparation for next week’s Open at Royal Portrush whatsoever. Good morning Scotland It's @ScottishOpen week!#ASIScottishOpen #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/mRw1proPZd— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) 9 July 2019 “It is a nice piece of land,” the 2016 Open champion, Henrik Stenson saidafter signing for an opening-round 65 at the Renaissance Club, which is staging its first European Tour event. “As of now, the biggest difference, or the one thing we are not super happy about, is that we have had so much rain and it is getting soft. “You want to be in the mindset of landing a pitching wedge five or six paces short of the pin and skipping forward. But, all of a sudden, they are now spinning back. It’s almost like you have to force yourself in the other direction.” Indeed, the Swede’s 6-under-par total was insufficient for a place in the top-10, while level left you outside the top 100. 8-under, 63, leads the way, a total produced by Matt Kuchar, Romain Wattel, Nino Bertasio and Edoardo Molinari. With Royal Portrush and Open preparations in mind, however, Stenson is far from the only player hoping for a sterner test over the upcoming 54 holes. “I like the venue and I like the golf course,” Padraig Harrington reflectedof Tom Doak’s design after signing for an opening-round 67. “It’s perhaps nearly too nice a venue – maybe a trickier more linksy golf course would offer better preparation for next week. But the course is lovely, it plays very nice. “I don’t mind a softly, softly test, but I’d probably want it slightly different. Last week’s course at the Irish Open was very similar to Portrush. Here it’s bigger greens, bigger targets. So, while I like this course it’s not really the same as next week. Next week will be just a little bit smaller and tighter whereas this is just a bigger concept out there. But everything about it is great for a tournament – the clubhouse and facilities are excellent.” Harrington’s countryman, Rory McIlroy (67) was more diplomatic, saying: “If there is no wind and the course is soft, it’s going to be ripped apart. It doesn’t have much defence. But I don’t mind that at all.” Here’s hoping the wind gets up and the challenge intensifies over the closing 54-holes. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
McIlroy aiming to make perfect Portrush preparation at Scottish Open
Jul 11, 2019 1:44 AM
 
As will have been abundantly clear to anyone who watched Rory McIlroy produce some of the most scintillating golf of the 2019 PGA Tour season en route to winning the Canadian Open last month, the four-time major winner doesn’t really do warm-ups. The Toronto event was staged the week before the US Open at Pebble Beach in California, and while many top-players discussed it as an opportunity to fine-tune their games in preparation for the third major of the season, McIlroy’s pre-tournament commentsmade clear that he was focused principally on winning. A sensational weekend scorecard reading 64-61 ensured he did win – by a full seven shots–before going on to tie for ninth in the US Open the following week. Rory McIlroy practices at @royalportrush @TheOpen pic.twitter.com/taUhBzy5Wo— Stephen Watson (@winkerwatson1) 6 July 2019 Ominously for the Scottish Open field, the Northern Irishman struck a remarkably similar rhetorical tone regarding his preparations for next week’s Open Championship at his home course of Royal Portrush. "My second week of competitive golf is usually my best week," the Northern Irishman saidby way of explaining his absence from last week’s Irish Open at Lahinch. "But it's not as if I want to just come here and go through the motions and get myself ready. I want to play well this week. "There's no better preparation to compete in majors than to get yourself in contention the week before. This is a very important event to me. It's good to get back here and re-familiarise myself with links golf. "It's different shots, different greens, different conditions. It's putting from 10 yards off the greens, bump and runs; the stuff that you don't really do week in, week out in America. A lot of us play the majority of our golf there now." McIlroy can feel confident of his chances of contending at the Renaissance Club over the coming four days; indeed, he enters a crucial fortnight in arguably the best formof a decorated, 12-year professional career. The 30-year-old has registered an outstanding 11 top-10 finishes to just a single missed-cut in 13 startssince the beginning of the year and arrives in East Lothian with two victories to his name in his last eight appearances. But as much as McIlroy is committed to winning in Scotland on Sunday, there can be no doubting the fact that next week’s Open at Portrush is his primary target. Indeed, the world No.3 enjoyed a productive practice session around his childhood track last weekend and professed to retaining a surprising degree of familiarity with the Harry Colt-designed course. “I expected it to feel different than it did,” he said. “It still just feels like Portrush to me. “Yes, the stands are up and it looks fantastic, but it’s still the same golf course. I haven’t played it much over the last few years. So I was sort of a little: ‘Do I really need to refamiliarise myself with this place; how much time do I need to spend?’ When I got on the first tee, everything sort of started coming back to me: On the second tee, I aim it at the brown house, everything started to come back. It felt like just the same old golf course that I grew up playing and it was nice.” McIlroy will play alongside American Rickie Fowler and home favourite Robert MacIntyre at North Berwick's Renaissance Club on Thursday. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
2019 Scottish Open betting tips - who can best Rory McIlroy?
Jul 10, 2019 2:57 AM
 
The build-up to 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush intensifies this week as the European Tour elite head to the par 71, 7,136-yard the Renaissance Club in East Lothian to contest the Scottish Open. Here follows our three best tips for the tournament. Rory McIlroy (8/1) Rory McIlroy fronts-up the betting market at 8/1 for this one – deservedly so. The 30-year-old copped a lot of flack for electing not to contest his home open at Lahinch last week, a tournament he hosted for four yearsbetween 2014 and 2018; however, the decision seems a sound from a long-term, strategic point of view. For a variety of physical and psychological factors, McIlroy rarely plays three-weeks in a row and it is striking that he played in the week leading-up to three of his four major championship victories. Thus although Lahinch can perhaps be seen to have provided a better warm-up for next week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush in the North of Ireland, McIlroy’s decision to focus his Open preparations on the Renaissance Club seems prudent. This is especially the case when one accounts for the excessive media demandsplaced on the former world No.1 whenever he sets foot in Ireland. Rory McIlroy turning this kid to butter is the best thing I’ve seen all day! pic.twitter.com/BHEv4MG0QB— Footy Smiles (@FootySmiles) 4 July 2019 McIlroy arrives into East Lothian in the midst of the most consistent run of form of his decorated career; he haswon two of his last eight tournamentsand has a fabulous chance of making it three from nine. He won the Canadian Open the week before finishing ninth on the occasion of his most recent start at the US Open at Pebble Beach; however, I don't think he'll worry about peaking too soon if he wins here. The Northern Irishman famously sandwiched the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in-between major wins at the Open Championship and the USPGA Championship in 2014 so there'll be no holding back if he gets in-the-mix. When one accounts for the indifferent form of other market leaderssuch as Rickie Fowler (10/1) and Justin Thomas (12/1) it is difficult not to perceive McIlroy as the most attractive investment in the outright winners’ market. Fowler has done nothing over the last three months to suggest that his victory in Phoenix in February signalled his transformation into a regular winner at PGA Tour level; indeed, the 2015 Scottish Open championarrives in East Lothian with just a single top-15 finish to his name in his last five starts. Thomas, meantime, is winless since claiming his ninth PGA Tour victory at the WGC-Bridgestone in August 2018 and has not come close to winning a major since claiming his first such titleat the 2017 US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. McIlroy is the value option at the front-end of the betting market. Matt Kuchar (16/1) He may not be having a great season in terms of publicity but Matt Kuchar is in exceptional form. Since ending a four-season trophy drought at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico last November, the 40-year-old has gone on to win the Sony Open and register six further top-10s through 15 starts in 2019, climbing up as high as No.13 in the world rankings. The value in backing Kuchar to contend as a 16/1 shot is enhanced when one accounts for the fact that he has finished second and fourth through the course of his last five starts at the Scottish Open and finished as a runner-up to Jordan Spieth at the Open Championshipat Birkdale two years ago. Eddie Pepperell (35/1) Fourth at the Irish Open last week, the two-time European Tour-winner finished as a runner-up to Branden Stone at the Scottish Open 12-months ago before going on to finish sixth at The Open at St Andrews. A good value links specialist. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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Sean Donnelly
Eddie Pepperell a Scottish Open threat following exploits at Lahinch
Jul 9, 2019 2:05 AM
 
In the end it was not to be for Eddie Pepperell. The 28-year-old birdied each of his final three holes to sign for a four-under third-round 66 at the Irish Open at Lahinch Golf Club last Saturday, drawing to within a shot of Robert Rock’s surprise 54-hole lead. Following on from his break-out European Tour triumphsin Qatar and at the British Masters last year, he consequently appeared well-placed to mark his return to the course following an unfortunate injury lay-off with a victory. As it turned-out, however, Pepperell was unable to maintain the level of scoring he produced on moving-day through the closing 18-holes; indeed, his respectable, 1-under final-round 69 was ultimately only good enough to tie for fourth, three-strokes shy of Jon Rahm’s winning total. Eddie Pepperell’s secret ball-striking drill pic.twitter.com/JtAcNM7dbT— GOLFTV (@GOLFTV) 5 July 2019 Rahm, who hit a 64 and 62 over the weekend in Lahinch, has now won two of the previous three Irish Opens and seems sure to contend at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in the North of Ireland in a fortnight’s time. Pepperell made a slow start on Sunday with bogeys at the second and fourth. A birdie at the sixth thrust him briefly back into contention, but he was unable to make any inroads on the leaders with five successive pars. He moved to 12-under with a birdie at the par-five 12th and then after a further five pars, a birdie at the 18th saw him climb to a three-way share of fourth. Inevitably, Pepperell will be disappointed at the manner in which his scoring contracted on Sunday and, given he began the final day with a four-stroke head-start over Rahm, the identity of the winner, however gifted, will be a particular source of anguish. Nevertheless, once an initial sense of disappointment subsides, the Oxfordshire-native will come to reflect positively on his performance in Lahinch, not leas owing to the fact that he achieved his second top-5 finish of the seasonon the occasion of his first start after returning from a six-week injury lay-off owing to back-problems. Indeed, Pepperell appears extremely well-placed to contend at next week’s Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick, a par 71 playing to 7136 yards. The world No.32 finished second to South African, Branden Stoneat the 2018 Scottish Open at Castle Stewart, before going on to tie for sixth at The Open Championship at St Andrews the following week, and with the rust blown off in Lahinch he appears dangerously poised to contend seriously for silverware as the European Tour’s ‘links swing’ intensifies. [Image Source: Flickr under CC]
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