AS THE countdown clock hit 100 days, American Matt Kuchar and former winner Luke Donald were the first names to be confirmed for this summer’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in a drip-feed process aimed at whetting appetites in the build-up to the event at Gullane.
More star attractions will be confirmed over the coming weeks, with world No 1 Rory McIlroy having already hinted the £3.25 million tournament is on his schedule again, as in recent weeks have American duo Phil Mickelson and Jimmy Walker.
McIlroy, of course, will be the biggest draw of all to the East Lothian coast if, as expected, he plays in one of the European Tour’s showpiece events for the second year running in preparation for a Claret Jug defence when St Andrews stages the Open Championship the following week.
Mickelson’s presence would also be a huge boost, both in terms of him being a winner as recently as 2013 and also because he’d be making his first return to the area since being crowned as Open champion for the first time at neighbouring Muirfield the same year.
As appetisers go, however, Kuchar and Donald are worthy names to be first on a cast list that will blossom into one of the strongest European Tour fields of the season by the time the event’s opening blow is struck on Thursday, 9 July.
Kuchar, the world No 14, was still in the amateur ranks when he made his first Scottish Open appearance in 1998 at Loch Lomond, where he received invitations to play on three more occasions. He last teed up in the event in 2011 at Castle Stuart, finishing joint-tenth behind Donald.
“I love everything about Scotland, so I didn’t need any persuading to play the Scottish Open this year,” said the 37-year-old, whose seven PGA Tour victories include the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
“I believe Gullane is a fabulous course, so I’m excited about my trip there,” added Kuchar. “After seeing what Phil [Mickelson] did in 2013, when he won at Castle Stuart the week before winning The Open, I think a lot of Americans thought that getting some links practice in at the Scottish Open made a lot of sense.
“I really enjoy the challenge of links golf, because it’s very different to what we play every week on the PGA Tour. So I’m really looking forward to testing myself at Gullane, and then at St Andrews the week after.”
Prior to his success at Castle Stuart, former world No 1 Donald had chalked up three top-fives in the event, meaning he’s already licking his lips about lining up another Scottish Open, one of, course, that will see a fellow Englishman, Justin Rose, defending the title as he seems a certainly to be in the field as well.
“I’ve tended to do well in the Scottish Open whenever I’ve played the tournament in the past, so I’ll obviously be very keen to continue that good run this year,” said Donald. “I got the chance to play Gullane last year and really enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to going back and teeing it up competitively.
“The Scottish golf fans are very knowledgeable and respectful of the game which, as well as the great courses, is one of the main reasons why I enjoy playing the tournament so much. Hopefully I can have another good week and fine tune my game before The Open.”
A Scottish Open season-ticket can be purchased for £70 in advance of the tournament, a saving of £10 on admission at the gate and £140 less than a weekly ticket for The Open just now. Adult day tickets are currently priced at £25, rising to £35 on the gate. Concessions (60 and over) start at £50 for a season ticket and £20 for any one day tickets, if purchased in advance. Under-16s accompanied by an adult are admitted free of charge, and all car parking is also free. Entry to the Pro-Am on Wednesday is £12 in advance, and £15 on the day.
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