Gullane set for star-studded Scottish Open line-up in 2018

Matt Kuchar has finished fourth in the Scottish Open twice in the past three years, using his latest appearance to produce his strongest performance in the Claret Jug event. Picture: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Matt Kuchar has finished fourth in the Scottish Open twice in the past three years, using his latest appearance to produce his strongest performance in the Claret Jug event. Picture: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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It may not have helped produce the winner on this occasion but, based on no less than seven out of the top ten at Royal Birkdale having played at Dundonald Links the previous week, next year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane can expect to boast another star-studded field.

Jordan Spieth joined 2015 winner Zach Johnson in claiming the Claret Jug without a warm-up in the home of golf, but they are the only pair to have achieved that over the past seven years and Matt Kuchar, for one, certainly benefited from his preparation in Ayrshire this year as he finished runner-up in Southport.

Third-placed Haotong Li from China also played in this year’s Scottish Open, as did the two players in joint-fourth – Rory McIlroy and, of course, Rafa Cabrera ­Bello, the winner at Dundonald­ after a brilliant closing 64, which clearly got him in the mood for another links test in Lancashire.

Add in Alex Noren, the defending champion a fortnight ago, Matthew Southgate and 62-shooter Branden Grace sharing sixth spot, as well as four others – Henrik Stenson, Chris Wood, Jason Dufner and Ian Poulter – also finishing in the top 20 and the Scottish Open certainly ticked a box once again in terms of getting players ready for the season’s third major.

Rickie Fowler, the 2015 winner in East Lothian, has already said he will almost certainly be back at Gullane next summer, as also seems certain to be the case with both Kuchar and Phil Mickelson. Kuchar, pictured, has now finished fourth twice in the last three years in the Scottish Open, using his latest appearance to produce his strongest performance by far in the Claret Jug event.

“The Scottish Open was a perfect tune-up for Birkdale,” he admitted, after only being denied by Spieth being stung into action over the final five holes after he’d fallen behind his older compatriot. “We had a couple of awfully challenging days at the Scottish Open. I remember being on the course at one point on the Saturday having 129 yards to the pin at the 12th and hitting a 6-iron. I thought to myself, ‘I am glad I’m over here doing this’. Just getting a feel for playing the different shots that you are required to play over here was extremely helpful for the Open.”

Mickelson certainly found that when he won at Castle Stuart in 2013 before going on to become Open champion a week later at Muirfield. He sat out the Scottish Open this year for the first time since 2009, having decided he didn’t want to learn a fourth new course for the event since it started moving around the country, but missing the cut in Southport left him regretting that decision. “I think playing a week before at the Scottish is very helpful and it may have made a difference,” said the five-time major winner, hinting that he’ll be back in East Lothian next July. “It’s hard to say, but this further proves that when I don’t play the week before a major, I am often not as sharp and ready to play as I need to be.”

Meanwhile, the two Scots to play in all four rounds at Birkdale have made jumps up both the world rankings and the Race to Dubai on the back of their best Open efforts. Richie­ Ramsay, who tied for 22nd, is up 17 spots to world No 152, while David Drysdale’s tie for 27th saw him leap 35 spots to 228 on that list.

In the Race to Dubai, Ramsay is up one place to 20th after picking up more than £530,000 over the past three weeks, with Drysdale climbing five spots to 43rd after banking about £260,000 in that same period.