Ben Coley returns to a winning formula ahead of the Dunhill Links, with Open one-two Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood both fancied to go close.
My natural inclination with an event like the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, played across three courses, the field divided up between them, is to take a chance. This was won by 1000/1 outsider Oliver Wilson not so very long ago, and Rory McIlroy has been banging his head on the crossbar since his debut. Whether it's the switching courses and changeable weather, or the pro-am set-up to make life easier for the celebrities who feature in every group, the Dunhill Links has a habit of levelling the playing field somewhat.
There are players here like Thriston Lawrence, a talented youngster from South Africa who once won the Lytham Trophy, who is playing well and almost certainly has a very bright future, and yet can be backed at 500/1. Last year's fourth, Tapio Pulkkanen, is a 250/1 shot despite finishing inside the top 30 at Wentworth last week, where his natural power was not as savage a weapon as it can be here. Even if we get just a little more sensible, you'll get three-figure prices about Adri Arnaus, who everyone knows by now is a winner in waiting.
Yet for all that temptation to chase the six, seven or eight places, to hope even to land the jackpot, I see this event fairly clearly. If McIlroy again comes up just short and if Jon Rahm can't quite get over Sunday's disappointment, then there's an excellent chance that either Shane Lowry or Tommy Fleetwood deservedly lands this increasingly prestigious prize.
The last time we watched pure links golf, it was Lowry and Fleetwood in the final group of The Open at Portrush. Lowry of course won that by six shots in one of the performances of the year, and there's every chance that he goes on to complete a dream season by landing what would be a third piece of silverware.
As I wrote last week, many other major champions have taken their foot off the gas upon completion of a life's ambition or at least suffered a loss of form despite their own best efforts. I'm not sure that'll be the case with Lowry. He celebrated hard and wrote off the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but it'll be all business now he's got the Race To Dubai to win and a Ryder Cup place to earn.
It was this plus his obvious love for Wentworth which earned Lowry the vote in the BMW PGA, where he stayed on encouragingly to finish 11th. It's easy now to argue that the nature of his performance ought to have been predictable - that is to say he should've been left alone beforehand - but looking back, the difference between 72 and 66 on Thursday was a succession of near-misses with the putter and one more yard out of his approach to the last.
Whether you call that rust or simply golf is moot and the bottom line is he looks to be in the same sort of form which won him the Claret Jug. When Lowry arrives to play links golf in that sort of shape, it's clear to all that he's a serious danger.
Ten starts in this event show eight cuts made, highlights including third and sixth, and on the European Tour this year he's won twice in 10 attempts. He has taken his game to another level altogether and with countryman and practice partner Padraig Harrington captaining next year's European side to head to defend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, there's just no way he'll be resting on his laurels.
Throw in a diminishing lead at the top of the Race To Dubai standings and a motivated Lowry should be a big player over the closing weeks of the season. It's hard to think of a better opportunity to win again than this one and he's backed accordingly.
As for Fleetwood, runner-up in The Open having failed to apply the necessary pressure on Sunday, this too looks a golden opportunity - to the extent that he has to feature in the staking plan despite a relatively poor strike-rate during his ascent over the last three years.
While he's been left out of many previews on these pages as a result, I do like to keep an open mind when it comes to measuring players on some sort of wins-to-runs ratio. This is the sport where even the greatest in history lose far more often than they win, and it's not difficult to see Fleetwood doing what Lowry has done and going from near-man to the man in the blink of an eye.
The foundations are there. He's the only player at the top level of golf to to have been on the go since January and made every cut and while that means he's played an awful lot of golf, three weeks off prior to Wentworth should set him up nicely for what's just an ideal challenge.
Fleetwood is the best player of Carnoustie in the field, the hardest course of the three in use all things being equal, and second place at Portrush can be added to a brace of runner-up finishes in this event to confirm an excellent links profile.
His first victory, six years ago, came in Scotland and such has been the nature of his up-down-up-up career so far that we forget sometimes he's only 28, a couple of years younger than McIlroy. His best years are almost certainly to come.
This is something of an apologist's argument but in a unique event, across three links courses, I'd be confident that this year's Open Championship one-two will be serious title contenders. Taking them both at around 9/1 combined appeals more than backing either McIlroy or Rahm at shorter, and with a couple of other players fancied each-way that's the rare approach I'll take this time.
It pays to stick with the home contingent in this - the UK and Ireland have won 13 of 18 renewals and account for most of the runners-up, too - but I struggled to build cases for others here, with in-form Andrew Johnston (again) and an out-of-form Chris Wood considered the most appealing at big prices.
Instead, it could pay to stick with Christiaan Bezhuidenhout following his excellent third place on Wentworth debut.
This talented youngster from South Africa has enjoyed a breakthrough year, winning at Valderrama and recapturing his form in recent weeks having been just outside the top 10 in Switzerland before contending all week in the BMW PGA.
These events all favour accurate players who scramble well, which is Bezuidenhout to a tee, and while there's a chance someone overpowers St Andrews in particular the nature of this multi-course tournament means just about anything goes when it comes to profiling champions.
It's better to focus on general links and wind credentials, which Bezuidenhout has having in fact been an excellent 33rd here in 2015, playing on an invite as he looked for a route into professional golf. After a missed cut in 2016 he then finished 36th in 2017 and 48th last year, which means that three visits have offered encouragement despite the lack of a title challenge.
In truth, such has been his trajectory over the 12 months since last teeing it up here that we're talking about a different player, but it's nevertheless encouraging that he's bagged plenty of experience of the layouts while his runner-up finish in Qatar earlier in 2019 is another excellent pointer as far as wind form goes.
All of it feels rather similar to when future Qatar champion Branden Grace won here in 2012, and Bezuidenhout's third place at Wentworth is form I find hard to ignore. He'd been third a week before that Valderrama win, which came at Rahm's expense, and can clearly hold his own should he find himself rubbing shoulders with the elite players come Sunday.
I mentioned Pulkkanen earlier and it's worth reiterating that he's an outsider to consider, largely because he was brilliant here last year, shooting 64 at Carnoustie and in the process defying an awful start for a career-best European Tour finish - one which helped keep his card.
However, at a considerably shorter price I prefer the claims of Hao-tong Li, who produced an almost identical performance to finish fifth despite shooting 75 at Kingsbarns on day one.
While Kingsbarns showed its teeth a year ago, typically it's the easiest of the three layouts and I've no doubt it's one Li can get to grips with, which makes him a likely contender here after a decent effort at Wentworth where he drove the ball superbly.
Playing for the first time in almost two months and at a course probably not built for him, Li would've been around 30th with a birdie at the final hole but made an ugly eight to fall outside the top 50. It'll have been frustrating, but the point is with 13 birdies and a couple of eagles, it looked to me to be a performance which nicely shook off the rust.
Links form such as third in The Open at Birkdale and coastal form like third in Sicily again underlines that he can play this type of golf, and the time to do so is now having just dropped out of the world's top 50.
Last year, he went 24-27-5-9-11-2-5-30 after losing his top-50 spot, doing enough to get it back and earn an Augusta invite, and his bid for a repeat can start in Scotland. Li won the pro-am here a year ago and is good enough to land solo silverware this time.
Romain Langasque again makes the shortlist as a former winner of the Amateur Championship who played really nicely at Wentworth, and whose standout European Tour effort to date came earlier this summer when third in the Scottish Open.
He's respected at 100/1 or so along with Tom Lewis, with Erik van Rooyen and Martin Kaymer others who came reasonably close to selection owing to their own fairly straightforward links credentials. This isn't an event where finding options is difficult.
However, I'll finish with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who is looking to make a late Presidents Cup bid and could be capable of doing so.
The Thai's form is unspectacular but he's made every cut since finishing 32nd in The Open, and he boasts an excellent record here with finishes of fourth and 15th from just two starts.
Course form is generally overrated, but I also believe that making cuts is underrated and this proven winner, who landed the Paul Lawrie Match Play in Scotland, has enough about him to step up and prove three-figure prices to be generous.
We've seen what the lure of a Presidents Cup spot can do courtesy of two international winnerss on the PGA Tour and Patrick Reed's hard-to-ignore FedEx Cup run, and Aphibarnrat probably has to contend regularly from here if he's to make Ernie Els' side.
Finally, watch out for Scotland's Calum Hill, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour from just 25 starts. He's already secured his European Tour playing rights for next year and is clearly one to keep a close eye on as he plays here on an invite.
And then there's Brandon Wu, the high-class American prospect who qualified for both the US Open and The Open this summer despite being an amateur - the first to complete that double in more than half a century.
Wu also registered three points from four at the Walker Cup, making him joint-top scorer, and with plenty of links golf under his belt lately there's probably a little juice in the standout 250/1 for those who want to get creative.
Typically that's my policy, but back on links land I can't resist two of the best links golfers in the world in the hope that they can serve up Portrush II.
Posted at 1755 BST on 23/09/19.
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