Place in history up for grabs for Scots golfers

Stephen Gallacher, pictured after winning the Dunhill Links Championship in St Andrews in 2004. Picture: Getty

Stephen Gallacher, pictured after winning the Dunhill Links Championship in St Andrews in 2004. Picture: Getty

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TECHNICALLY, there has not been a home winner of the Scottish Open. While the record books show Colin Montgomerie as the 1999 champion, the event he actually won was the Standard Life Loch Lomond. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Scottish Open was restored to the European Tour schedule and no Scot has lifted the title since then or before it disappeared from the schedule, having been held over the years at Downfield, St Andrews, Haggs Castle, Gleneagles and Carnoustie.

It’s a statistic that adds spice to the event each year and among those aiming to create history this time around are Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren, the top two Scots in the world rankings for the past eight months or so. Both have tasted success on Scottish soil as professionals – Gallacher winning the 2004 Dunhill Links at St Andrews and Warren claiming the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles three years later – but their national championship would take pride of place on CVs that each contain three European Tour triumphs.

“The Scottish boys certainly won’t be looking at it as a warm-up,” said Gallacher of the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event preceding the 144th Open Championship at St Andrews. “We’re looking to win it – we all want that, not just the Open.”

The 40-year-old finished fourth behind Justin Rose at Royal Aberdeen 12 months ago after catapulting himself up the leaderboard with a closing 63. Having ended up in the same position one year and sixth on another occasion at Loch Lomond, he’s had a taste of being in the mix in the event and is now hoping to make the most of its first visit to Gullane.

Having cut his golfing teeth in the Lothians, Gallacher is no stranger to this year’s venue. Indeed, he’s played a lot there in the winter throughout his career and someone at the club was perhaps gazing into a crystal ball a few years back when the Bathgate man was offered playing rights there. In short, he’ll be stepping on to the first tee feeling he knows the challenge for this year’s event better than anyone else in the star-studded field.

“I must have played Gullane hundreds of times,” said Gallacher. “I know the course well and it doesn’t change much from the winter apart from the rough and the definition. The greens are unbelievable. They are such good surfaces, so there’s no excuses here. It’s as straightforward a course as you’ll play in terms of the layout but a lot can change with the different wind.

“Hopefully that knowledge gives me an extra edge. Any tournaments where you go back to the same course every year it can give you a bit of continuity because you learn where to hit it and, more importantly, where to miss it. I’ve got that around here, which most of the guys won’t have, and that’s a big advantage.

“You see a lot of guys who will play certain courses well every year because they know them well and it suits their eye. I’ve played this course in different winds and no wind at all. I know there are certain pitfalls on certain holes that I’ll be accounting for in my game plan. So I certainly know what the course is going to bring but it’s about what I bring to the course on the week that’s important.”

Warren was third last year, having finished in the same position at Castle Stuart in 2012 after holding a three-shot lead going into the final stretch. Three years on from that disappointment, the 34-year-old has matured into a world-class player and is ready for another crack at his home title.

“‘I think I can contend here,” said Warren. “I’ve played a lot of links golf in my career as an amateur, so I feel really comfortable with it. Two top threes in the last two years over two different courses (Castle Stuart and Royal Aberdeen) also shows that the Scottish Open is a tournament suited to my game.”

It’s an event that has seen its profile raised on the other side of the Atlantic in recent years, as Warren discovered when he was chilling out in the players’ lounge at a PGA Tour event earlier this season. “This is a tournament that has become more important to guys all over the world,” said the East Kilbride man who, thanks to his wife Laura being from Edinburgh, can expect some local support during his title bid in East Lothian. “I’ll give you the perfect example. I was playing over in America at the Zurich Classic, and Justin Rose is one of their really big names, because they sponsor him.

“They were talking on TV about his last couple of years, showing the highlights – and his Scottish Open win was right up there. It shows you how prominent this event has become in the States, listening to what they were saying, the coverage they were getting shows that it is one of Europe’s biggest and best events.

“I was surprised by how much coverage it got. Because they were talking to Justin, they homed in on the Scottish Open. They went through the list of winners and gave it a lot of air time. It wasn’t just quick snippets, they must have spent about fully 10 minutes on it, which, on American TV, is massive.

“Phil Mickelson winning both the Scottish Open and British Open made a big difference. If you listen to all his interviews after the Open, you’ll notice the boost he gave to the Scottish Open just by how often he mentioned it.

“Although it’s not a major, it certainly gets your attention and the Scottish guys prepare as we would do for a major. In terms of infrastructure, the PGA at Wentworth is massive. But, if the Scottish Open is second, it’s only by a small margin. Other than those, I don’t see any other European events which come close to those two.”

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