Golf expert Ben Coley has selections ranging from 33/1 to 500/1 for the Scottish Championship, headed by Matthew Jordan.
As far as my grandma was concerned, I went to Nottingham University. Why did she come to this conclusion, when it is not the correct one? Because I went to university, in Nottingham. Nottingham University. The idea of the polytechnic, fragmented, urban delight that is Nottingham Trent had never entered her mind, and why should it? You hear Nottingham, you hear university, you think Nottingham University. I wasn't going to correct her.
So when a friend told me he'd played Fairmont St Andrews, I thought of her, and what she might have assumed. 'You've played St Andrews, have you?' she'd have said. 'Yes, grandma.' Except he'd played a new course, not the Old one, and just as my gran's pride would've diminished somewhat, so too does my jealousy.
This is St Andrews all right, but not quite as we know it. There are just four miles between the Old Course and Fairmont, but it's the years between them which are significant - six-hundred, give or take. That's why, despite being on the coast, in Scotland, and bearing the name of the sport's most famous town, we will have caveats and footnotes. This isn't perhaps links golf, but links-like. The views are breathtaking, but the course may not be.
Certainly, reviews of this Sam Torrance design aren't altogether positive in the main, though you'll do well to find a critical word written about the hotel. Ah! The hotel. Throughout this period of the European Tour season (post-lockdown doesn't quite seem appropriate, anymore), it's been hotel over golf course as a matter of necessity. And so it's a shame that a new golf tournament in Scotland cannot show us Scottish golf in its purest sense, but it would be a little churlish to quibble.
That was very much Eddie Pepperell's attitude when reflecting on a back-to-form, Rolex Series fortnight which concluded with sixth place at Wentworth. The Englishman made clear on Sunday that his improved play reflected in part his comfort in the UK, being at home with his loved ones, not worrying so much about bubbles and tests and all the words of 2020. It's why he's playing here, but is unsure if he'll play again before the DP World Tour Championship, for which he's just about qualified.
No doubt Pepperell has the incentive to make it three top-10s in succession, because if he does he will know for sure that his place in the field in Dubai is secure. That, his familiarity with and fondness for Scotland, and the fact that his putter has warmed up and met with some quality iron play, just about makes him the man to beat here and he's the pick of the market leaders at a general 14/1.
The thing is, for all I probably love him more than even you do, he just isn't a player to get stuck into at short odds. It didn't pay off, but I remain adamant he was a bet at 150/1 for the Scottish Open, where he finished ninth, but must now be left alone. The fact both wins have come after he'd finished 44th in his previous start might be a statistical quirk, but it also tells us something about his unpredictability. If he wins, so be it.
The truth is we've very little to go on here. The course staged an Open qualifier last summer, in which Brandon Wu was the star, but that was a composite 18 holes and word is this is going to be played solely on the Torrance Course. Just seven of its holes were played by Wu, and just a handful of the players in this week's field were involved - although there's more on one of them later.
Then we've the Scottish Seniors Open, won a couple of times by Barry Lane and most recently by Mark Davis in 2014. The six renewals of that event to be played here confirmed that which we ought to know: weather is key in determining scoring, which will be low if the wind and rain stay away, but high if they do not. Indeed Davis won in five-under, the only man who bettered par. If that sounds unremarkable, then consider this: Cesar Monasterio opened with a round of 61.
As things stand the forecast is calm and dry, albeit cool conditions will still make this feel like some kind of challenge. Last week at Wentworth is probably a good example to call upon here, because the winner had twice landed the Dunhill Links, in Scotland, in October. The only player to have won that event since Tyrrell Hatton is Victor Perez, who chased him home. Whether it's a bobble hat or a hoodie, those comfortable wrapping up are at an advantage.
All of which is to lay the foundations for backing two former winners of the St Andrews Links Trophy: MATTHEW JORDAN and MATTHEW SOUTHGATE.
I wouldn't be alone in believing that Southgate's breakthrough, if and when it comes, is as likely to be in Scotland as it is anywhere else. He was second here to Perez in the Dunhill Links and ninth in the Scottish Open two starts ago, continuing a love affair with the country which started when his father - a longtime Carnoustie member - took him to see the Open Championship.
Southgate's amateur highlight was a five-shot romp at the Old Course, where his famously excellent attitude helped him combat horrible weather and account for players like Tom Lewis who had been considered far more likely winners. Since turning professional, he's further underlined that close to home is best: his five biggest OWGR returns have all come in the UK and Ireland, including twice in the Open.
Contending in Oman a couple of years ago - a tricky, modern course where a consistent breeze is a feature, one built in the image of golf in Scotland - further demonstrates where he's at his most comfortable, and there's little reason to question how well suited he'll be to Fairmont.
Form-wise, everything looks in place for a lucrative week. Southgate has ranked second in greens hit in each of his last two starts (10th and second in strokes-gained: approach) to demonstrate that his long-game really is beginning to purr. He's gained strokes off the tee in all bar his very first start of 2020, a record powered by accuracy, and in many respects he boasts a similar game to Aaron Rai. Is that significant? Perhaps, because The Renaissance is another modern links whose characteristics differ a little from classical ones, even if the aesthetics remain. In both its years on the European Tour, quality iron players have dominated the finish.
Southgate is exactly that at the moment and 44th at Wentworth was a decent effort, given that he lost nine strokes on and around the greens. His putting was anomalously poor - 67th of 67 is not a reflection of his ability with the putter - and I reckon confidence will remain high as he returns to a country and a town he simply loves.
As mentioned, Jordan also won the St Andrews Links Trophy, just as he did the Lytham Trophy (by nine, no less) in an excellent amateur career. A member of Hoylake growing up, where his family ties also run deep, the youngster has honed his game by the sea, and there's reason to hope for further improvement from him now teeing up in Scotland.
All summer he's hinted that he might be good enough to win as a rookie, including when 14th in Portugal last time. Jordan sat third at halfway there, right in the mix, only for a difficult third round to derail him just as it had at The Belfry in the UK Championship. In four of his last five starts, in fact, he's been bang there entering the weekend, only to learn a chastening lesson in the heat of battle.
It will all serve him well, as will the experience of that course-record opening round to lead the British Masters in front of friends and family last May, at a time when he was not yet a European Tour member. A year earlier, he'd managed to finish 32nd on a Dunhill Links invite despite opening with a 77, and on his second go in that event he finished fifth - the standout performance of his burgeoning career.
It didn't take Jordan long to win on the Challenge Tour - seven starts, in fact - and a links-like test in Scotland, in what's not a strong field, provides him with a real opportunity to take the next step up the ladder. He's striking the ball well enough to make this another memorable week north of the border.
One of the themes of the European Tour summer was quality champions. John Catlin was probably the slight curveball, the first time at least, but he'd been playing well and came with a strong CV from the Asian Tour. Shocks just haven't happened, not since that experimental fortnight in Austria, and once more last week we saw that focusing on the front of the market has been the way to go.
Still, just as in the US, the time for that to change is surely when the grade eases and, in this case, when the style of golf changes. This is still resort golf, as covered early on, and scoring may well be fairly low; yet it is not parkland, point-and-shoot stuff, and I think there's enough variance built in to events like these to hope for the unexpected.
That feeling is strengthened by the front of the market. Matt Wallace was ultimately disappointing after a good start last week, and while Lee Westwood's run of top-20 finishes now stands at five, none have been top-10s. Both look short, and so does Rai given how he struggled last Friday. Perhaps the weekend off will have done him good after an intense fortnight, but he may need a little longer to recharge the batteries.
With Robert MacIntyre really poor as the tournament wore on it may not take much to get these favourites beaten this time, which is why my focus turned quickly to those at much bigger prices.
Toby Tree is tempting - he seemed to benefit from bagging MacIntyre's former caddie as he contended in Northern Ireland, and is a talented player capable of taking another step forward. So too is Ewen Ferguson, who played well on his debut in the Scottish Open, but preference first of all is for SHUBHANKAR SHARMA.
This two-time European Tour winner would've been in my staking plan for Wentworth at a slightly bigger price, but his eye-catching performance in Scotland and course form in Surrey saw his odds tumble. Of course, they're shorter again now but that reflects the serious drop in grade, and I feel like he's been missed a little compared to some others.
There are plenty of examples here of players who've shortened to a similar degree despite performing markedly worse last week, yet a Rolex Series event was always going to be a big ask for Sharma, whose form has nosedived since a breakthrough 2017/18 campaign.
If he is going to burst back to life it'll be in this sort of company, and the improvement shown in his long-game took another leap forward at Wentworth, where he was accurate off the tee and ranked 12th in approach play. That followed rankings of 22nd, 22nd and 21st across his previous three starts, so in the department I consider to be the most important and predictive, he has been really impressive of late.
The putter has been in and out - rankings of 15th, 65th, 18th and 62nd say as much - but if he does hole his share, and continue to pepper flags, this looks a good opportunity. He should prefer the easier conditions to those which he faced at The Renaissance, and don't forget he was on the wrong side of a big draw bias that week - from his half, he had only one in front of him at halfway.
Sharma is classy at his best and remains a player of big potential. And, just as he did in 2019, he is finding some form towards the end of the year. Anything around the 66-80/1 mark looks worth taking as a result.
Adrian Meronk was by some distance the best ball-striker in the field when last we saw him and is a big talent, while Sean Crocker is edging towards something special, but both are kept on the back-burner to make way for some speculative darts which reflect the nature of this tournament.
First, BRYCE EASTON has always had potential and after three good weeks, he might be ready to show it.
The South African has finished 19th, 62nd and 50th over those events, but he was eighth through 54 holes at The Belfry (field stronger than this) and 20th at the same stage in Portugal. His approach play rankings have been 14th, 31st and 24th, and the message is he's closer than at first he might appear.
Key to taking another step forward might be a return to St Andrews because, believe it or not, he got married here three years ago - decked out in a kilt, no less - and talks about the town in a way you might expect a youngster from Scotland to.
Having just announced he and his wife are to become parents, there are positive vibes all over the place for this multiple Sunshine Tour winner, whose runner-up effort in the Finnish Challenge last year suggests he might be able to adapt to cooler conditions than he experiences back home. In fairness, he's also owned a house in Putney for a while and played a lot of golf in Surrey, so UK conditions are not alien to him.
Easton did get the chance to play St Andrews in the Dunhill Links last year and missed the cut, but he'd played seven of the last eight weeks on the Challenge Tour and was under pressure in the fight for cards. He only missed narrowly, too, with a 66 at Kingsbarns something we can cling to given the forecast conditions.
As you can tell, this is speculative but at 200/1 he's worth chancing.
At similar prices, JONATHAN CALDWELL also gets the benefit of the doubt at a course he has played before - some of it at least.
Caldwell shot level-par in that Open qualifier won by Wu, a respectable effort, and this former Walker Cup player has been in decent nick this summer. Although yet to emulate his eighth place at the British Masters upon resumption, he's now made his last six cuts and that's an indication he might be close to putting four rounds together again.
Hailing from Northern Ireland, the chilly conditions hold no fears and although it's at a much lower level, he played in Scotland twice last year, finishing second and third in two EuroPro Tour events. They were his best performances of the season and preempted a fantastic effort at Qualifying School for a player who must surely have considered giving up the dream since that 2007 amateur appearance alongside Rory McIlroy.
Things are looking up now and he spoke positively enough after the Irish Open, confessing that a few weeks off would be welcome while allowing him to catch up with his coach. "My game's not in a bad position," he said. "I just need to score better."
It may well be that a links-like event will unlock further improvement and it won't take much more to pop up on this leaderboard.
Finally, ROBIN PETERSSON is likely to prove better than his odds and is the last roll of the dice.
Before turning professional in 2017, Petersson was the best Swedish player in the amateur game and while most of his career highlights came over in the US, where he won some decent college events, he did finish sixth in a low-key affair at the Old Course. Calum Hill, for what it's worth, was a few places further back.
More recently, he won his first event on the Nordic Golf League in August and last week finished 12th in their season finale won by Lasse Jensen, a European Tour regular with plenty of high-class form. It's an increasingly competitive circuit and the gap between the feeder tours and the Challenge Tour has never been thinner.
Of course, this is another step up altogether but Petersson has had a taste of the European Tour, firing rounds of 69 and 64 to lie ninth in the Euram Bank Open back in July. Another sub-70 round had him 11th entering the final round, before he not unsurprisingly struggled and fell to 28th.
Since then though he's also been on the fringes in two Challenge Tour events and made the cut in the Open de Portugal, so he ought to be getting more comfortable. Just two weeks ago he shot three rounds of 69 for 19th in the Italian Challenge won by the promising Hurly Long, and I'm not sure any of this is really factored in to his odds.
I like backing Scandinavians in cool, UK conditions, and while Petersson is highly unlikely to win, he might give us a run for our money. Certainly, he's a youngster of potential, he's sharp and playing well, and playing in St Andrews isn't a totally new experience.
Posted at 1945 BST on 12/10/20
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