Scottish Open entry building to field of dreams

Phil Mickelson went on to win The Open following last year's Scottish Open victory at Castle Stuart in Inverness. Picture: SNS
Phil Mickelson went on to win The Open following last year's Scottish Open victory at Castle Stuart in Inverness. Picture: SNS
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WHO’s next for the Scottish Open? That may sound greedy given the Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event is already set to boast the European Tour’s strongest field of the season for its first visit to Royal Aberdeen, but it’s unlikely the filtering out of names is quite finished with nine weeks to go until the players tee off.

Six players in the world’s top 22 have now confirmed they will be in the field at Balgownie from 10-13 July, eighth-ranked defending champion Phil Mickelson having been joined on the Tour’s ticket-selling list by Justin Rose (10th), Rory McIlroy (11th), Luke Donald (18th), Ian Poulter (21st) and Jimmy Walker (22nd).

Add in 30th-ranked Lee Westwood, as well as Jonas Blixt, the world No 35 who put himself in the mix at The Masters, and the event’s first visit to the Granite City is just edging the Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in just over a fortnight’s time, in terms of strength of field.

It’s a real feather in Royal Aberdeen’s cap, especially as few – if any – of the aforementioned players have been there before. Its reputation as one of the game’s great traditional links has been enough to entice them, along with some words of encouragement from Aberdeen’s favourite golfing son, Paul Lawrie.

While Rose’s participation was only confirmed last week, the wheels had been set in motion by Lawrie as far back as last September, when he had a chat with the US Open champion. It was the same, no doubt, with 2011 winner Donald, McIlroy and Poulter as they, too, respect the 1999 Open champion who was also, of course, a Ryder Cup team-mate at Medinah.

Equally significant, of course, is the “Mickelson effect” after big Phil used his win at Castle Stuart last summer to perfect the shots that helped him become Open champion as well at Muirfield the following week. Rose is not pleased with how he has performed of late in the game’s oldest major and reckons a week playing links golf will have him tuned up for Hoylake this time around.

Who else might be tempted to enjoy that perfect preparation for a tilt at the Claret Jug? Working from the top of the world rankings, it is unlikely that either Tiger Woods or Adam Scott, the No 1 and No 2 respectively, will be heading for Aberdeen.

Woods, of course, is still recovering after undergoing back surgery and, in addition to that, only seems to play on this side of the Atlantic when someone is prepared to pay him a whopping appearance fee. Take the Turkish Open, for example.

If he does recover in time to try to repeat his 2005 Open Championship win on Merseyside, though, it would not be a bad thing surely for him to put money aside for once and get in a links warm-up as one of his preparatory events. But don’t hold your breath on that.

The same goes for Scott, who has not included the Scottish Open on his schedule since finishing joint fourth at Loch Lomond in 2009, and don’t expect to see a big Bubba Watson announcement, either, as he revealed after winning a second Green Jacket in three years that teeing up in the Greenbrier Classic the week before would preclude him from playing in Aberdeen.

There will be no Jordan Spieth, either, as the John Deere Classic, the event he won last year to spark a meteoric rise up to world No 7, is the same week as the Scottish Open, which is a pity when you take into account that he played at Royal Aberdeen in the 2011 Walker Cup.

Almost certain to be there, though, is world No 3 Henrik Stenson, especially as he used last year’s event – he led heading into the final round in Inverness before finishing joint-third – as the springboard to win both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai.

Another likely addition in the coming weeks is former US Open champion and world No 15 Graeme McDowell, given that he praised the move to Royal Aberdeen after claiming the event had lost some of its prestige since leaving Loch Lomond. Watch out, too, for the likes of Patrick Reed, the WGC-Cadillac Championship winner, and Rickie Fowler bolstering the American contingent, while we’ve still to learn who will be flying the South African flag in the Granite City and don’t be surprised if Ernie Els, a Scottish Open regular, is joined by his fellow major winners, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, this time around.

It’s lip-smacking stuff and makes you wonder whether serious consideration should be given to Royal Aberdeen being more than a one-off, as seems to be the thinking. “Let’s take it one year at a time,” read a tweet posted by someone in the club’s pro shop in response to that suggestion. “The wind might destroy them!”

It might indeed but, at the same time, there’s a strong chance that the Scottish Open will spawn a fourth consecutive Open champion after Darren Clarke, Els and Mickelson.

Sinking feeling as two putters prove better than one

WHEN it comes to owning too many putters, Jock MacVicar, the doyen of Scottish golf writers, might just lead the field – as I discovered when he opened his boot to reveal more flat sticks in it than most club pros stock in their shop.

That moment popped into my mind as I was stepping on to the tee for a club tie the other night and noticed my opponent had two putters in his bag – one a Ram Zebra and the other a Ping Anser. The curious type, I couldn’t wait long to ask the reasoning behind such club selection and was told the Zebra often earned its stripes when used from off the green in a similar way to a hybrid club.

Most of us have problems getting the ball in the hole with one putter but my opponent, a single-figure man with a solid all-round game, holed them with both implements.

He beat me, needless to say, though it was nowhere as painful as the defeat I suffered in the same handicap knock-out competition a couple of years ago. Let’s say I’ve had more enjoyable days on a golf course than losing to someone after hearing him identify his ball on the first tee and realising it was one you’d lost on the same course a week or two earlier.

I swear the ball’s distinctive logo seemed to smile at me every time it was about to drop into the hole!