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Patrick Cantlay
Tyrrell Hatton
Min Woo Lee
Lucas Herbert

We should be in the middle of a trio of home Opens.

Although disappointing, it is perfectly understandable why organisers would move the Irish Open to September instead of staying in its regular position, two weeks prior to The Open.

They see the rescheduling as part of being able to attract a better quality field and, if reports are to be believed, they will certainly be hosting a fair number of the top-20 in the world.

It also takes place when yours truly believes The Open should be, a proper end-of-season trial around a links course. The move also puts punters in a quandary.

Last year’s Scottish Open champion Xander Schauffele has never played the Irish Open but won the Travelers at home before winning a top-class pro-am at Adare Manor.

Tommy Fleetwood’s record in Ireland was just about decent, but he used that experience to his advantage at the Renaissance Club, ultimately losing to Aaron Rai in a play-off in 2021, an effort that preceded two further top finishes.

Rai, himself, has a terrific record at Galgorm Castle and Mount Juliet, running-up to John Catlin in Covid year and posting a pair of top-12 finishes since.

Lucas Herbert, winner at Mount Juliet in 2021, and with two book-ending top-10s at the Irish, has a pair of fourth place finishes at Renaissance, whilst Bernd Wiesberger – winner of the first Scottish open held at the North Berwick course in 2019 – has two second places and a fourth from just four Irish Open outings.

There is undoubtedly a connection, and whilst we have to do without immediate Irish Open form, I’m in on anything that hints to quality and consistent efforts across the water.

As always, the weather will hugely affect the home Opens.

Austrian Wiesberger won his play-off after recording  22-under, whilst a year later Rai and bad weather specialist Tommy Fleetwood got very wet when fighting it out at half the score, 11-under.

We go again a year later when Min Woo Lee used his length to triumph in 18 under the card but, 12 months ago, the defending champ needed only to get to 7-under to win by a single shot.

There is plenty of wind and rain forecast for the week, so if it clears up, expect low scores on softened greens. Should it continue post-Wednesday, we might see Fleetwood again posting the joy he finds in getting soaked.

With Cam Smith banned from appearing (though very high on the list for next week’s big event) and Jon Rahm and Max Homa not taking part, that leaves seven of the world’s top-10 players here this week.

Top of the list, Scottie Scheffler, may not have won since March but has been confirmed as putting up some of the best long-term tee-to-green figures since the pomp years of Tiger Woods.

It’s a rum week when the 27-year-old does not rank in the top three from peg to green, something that has happened only once in his last 10 starts. Even then, he ranked fifth.

Having beaten Tyrrell Hatton at Bay Hill, and won in Texas, Pheonix and Sawgrass (again beating Hatton) I’ve got no issues with him in the wind. I just wonder if this might be seen as more of a warm-up for Hoylake, where his stunning approach play will be a positive against an unquestionable weakness (putting), a factor that might be less of an issue.

We have to go back to Ernie Els in 2003 to find the last repeat winner of the Scottish Open, so whilst Xander is tempting after another stellar year (10/18/10 through the majors) I have a feeling he will be another for whom this will be a warm-up for better.

Rory has done nothing in two outings here and won’t want poor conditions, but Patrick Cantlay does make some appeal at the price, giving the impression he is very much this year’s Schauffele.

The 31-year-old hasn’t had the best year in terms of public relations but continues to churn out repeat results at favoured tracks. After last year’s fourth place, he might soon be numbering the Renaissance as one of those.

Cantlay is managing to sneak in results despite sometimes being off with one element.

Surrounding a 14th at Augusta (could have been so much better but for the slow play issues), top-10 at the PGA and 14th at the US Open, the eight-time winner has landed yet another top-3 at Harbour Town, a fourth place alongside Schauffele when defending the Zurich pairs title, and his sixth top-15 in a row at River Highlands, recording his best ever event finish, in fourth place.

In between all those, a 30th at the Memorial may seem poor in comparison to his two course wins, but something went very wrong on day four, his poor display on the greens dropping him back from ninth, whilst 21st at Quail Hollow is very acceptable given his dislike of the course.

He’s now back on a track on which he was top-20 for tee-to-green and 11th for putting, so whilst he has never played the Irish Open, the fact he has been 12th at Carnoustie and eighth at St. Andrews suggests he cannot be ruled out in any varying Open conditions.

I’m completely torn between Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood and it’s only by the width of a feather that the former is preferred.

Whilst he may have once reached the lofty height of fifth in the world,  in my mind the 31-year-old Englishman is playing some of the most consistent golf of his life, and in higher-quality fields.

Two-time winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links, Hatton’s best finish in this event is a runner-up behind Alex Noren at Castle Stuart in 2016. Noren, incidentally, is another with a tremendous record at the same pro-am, the highlight being last year’s second place behind another links specialist Ryan Fox.

It’s not all old form though, and the selection comes here after three consecutive course top-25s  (14/18/24), a record that could have been better given he sat in eighth place after two rounds last year.

Whilst he is yet to win in 2023, the man who should be mic’d for every round (ever) was the closest challenger to the flying Scottie-man at Sawgrass, third at tough Quail Hollow, and again in bronze medal position in Canada.

That leaderboard at Oakdale has some added significance, with beaten play-off candidate Fleetwood and joint third-placed Rai boosting form for this week, and Royal Aberdeen winner Justin Rose in eighth place.

In 16 outings this year, Hatton has missed just one cut (in Texas) with top-10 finishes in Pheonix, at Bay Hill, and at Craig Ranch boosting his current world ranking of 15th.

He comes here currently ranked (PGA Tour) 10th off-the-tee, 17th in approach and 5th for putting, with his worst figures being for around the green, a stat that let him down around here last year when a slight loss (-0.5 strokes) cost him another place in the top 15.

I’ll take it on the chin if he’s beaten by a shot by Fleetwood, but wherever one finishes, expect the other. The coin flipped Hatton’s way.

It’s not hard to imagine Jordan Spieth being at his best for next week’s big one, and it was tempting to go with vastly improved Adrian Meronk, winner of last year’s Irish Open. However, The Pole appears a little shy of this level, and has done little in two previous outings here.

Instead, the slowly peaking Min Woo Lee might be ready to go well after leaving a rough patch of form behind.

After a good start to 2023 with a runner-up in Abu Dhabi, top-15 in Dubai and sixth place at The Players (second place after three rounds), the Australian lost his form and missed three cuts, including at Augusta, a course at which he’d been 14th on debut.

However, he bounced back at the PGA at Oak Hill, following up with three more cuts at Colonial (7th after round one, 25th after three), fifth at the US Open and ninth at Travelers.

The 24-year-old then returned to Europe for the British Masters at The Belfry with a spring in his step, commenting that he felt his upbringing on the DPWT had been vital for his progress on the PGA Tour. “So, it definitely helped with my career and America’s really tough,” he told the DPWT website. “The courses are tough and I always come back to how I played in Europe, and yeah, lots of confidence from playing out here and I think it’s starting to show a little bit in America.”

54th after round one last time, and 63rd at halfway, Lee found his form after the cut, scything through the field in difficult conditions to finish 15th.

This was enough to think he comes here ready to build on two solid course efforts. In eighth place after the first round on debut, he, of course, improved on that a year later, with a remarkable final round of 64 in 2021, despite a weather delay.

It’s hard to believe that Min Woo has been professional for just four years, but with victories in Victoria in his home Open (beating Ryan Fox) and around here, he arrives into a period that suits his best game.

With a short major career beginning to show improvement – this year’s 8th and 15th coming after a 21st at Cam Smith’s Open win – Min Woo needs serious consideration over the next two weeks. Hopefully, the hints become reality in a few days’ time.

Rickie Fowler broadcast his current claims before his win last time in Detroit and loves coming to Scotland. A win at Gullane and four further top-10 finishes give credence to his claims, but, sadly, the bookmakers have got him now.

Despite Brandon Stone winning at 400/1 and Min Woo well into triple figures in 2022, I can’t look too far down for the winner.

I’ll puff in the cheeks and stick with a player often backed when wind and rain are mentioned, even if we need to shut eyes at the stats board.

In a similar way to Min Woo, 2021 Irish Open champion Lucas Herbert becomes an auto-bet when the right conditions are forecast.

The Aussie is one of those players that can rarely be backed on a trend or a form line. Indeed, his play-off win in Dubai came after a tied-67th season opener, the Bermuda win after two missed-cuts, whilst his latest win in Japan, in April, is surrounded by mostly poor form.

We can judge only the win at Mount Juliet as forecast, coming after a pair of top-20 finishes on the PGA Tour, at the Memorial and, significantly, Travelers.

No coincidence that after his best effort for a couple of months, he is considered for the Scottish Open this week in lieu of the missing Irish equivalent.

Herbert’s two outings here in 2020 and 2021 resulted in almost +3 for approaches and two top-eight ranked efforts on the greens, similar to his two efforts at River Highlands, one of which which led to his win at Mount Juliet..

Herbert is a confidence player, bombing the ball around in a tremendous play-off for his first win, although he has had to make changes to the way he drives the ball in an effort to simply find fairways.

At the end of last year, the 27-year-old realised that his stock draw was simply not finding the short stuff enough to count, with his coach commenting:

“We know that when he drives it 300 in the air–which he does–if he can hit 60 percent of fairways he’s going to compete week in and week out.”

Whilst he may not have completely settled with a new fade, it will come, and the wager is in trust that manages to find enough greens to allow his excellent putting to thrive.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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