Golf expert Ben Coley hit the crossbar on both tours last week - don't miss three selections for the Scottish Open.
One year ago, Brandon Stone came agonisingly close to the European Tour's first official sub-60 round, a feat which would be achieved by Oliver Fisher later in the year. Stone won the real quiz, though: his closing 60 at Gullane was enough for the Scottish Open title, whereas Fisher suffered the relative ignominy of seventh in Portugal.
Stone's victory came at exchange odds of 1000.0 and was among the shocks of the European Tour season, despite his promise and the titles he'd won before, and it was at odds with the profile of the burgeoning Rolex Series, whose events have unanimously been won by bigger names.
Yet if you were to draw up a list of tournaments most likely to produce something most unlikely, the Scottish Open would be towards the top for several reasons. Firstly, it sits one-week prior to the Open itself, and when focus slips, strange things happen. Indeed, soon after Stone had completed his final-round surge, Michael Kim closed out a demolition job in the US having been equally impossible to unearth beforehand.
Secondly, links golf has and always will lend itself to such quirks of the form book, regardless of how impressive tournament favourite Jon Rahm was over the closing 27 holes of the Irish Open. All of the majors throw up strange results from time to time, but the one played on pure links courses is the most volatile. Outside of it, the Irish Open has given us Soren Kjeldsen, the Dunhill Links has given us Oliver Wilson, and the Scottish Open gave us Stone one year after it so nearly gave us Callum Shinkwin.
Rory McIlroy might just win it anyway, and at 6/1 he looks a fair price. It must have been a wrench for Rory to skip last week's Irish Open in favour of this trip to the Renaissance Club in East Lothian, and he'll be keen to justify the decision. He's links-attuned having been to Portrush before stopping off for an appearance in the Queenwood Cup where, according to National Club Golfer's Mark Townsend, he shot a luckless 63. And he's won twice this season, an important step back towards to the top of the world.
When McIlroy triumphed in Canada a week prior to Pebble Beach, he spoke about the importance of these national opens to him and that performance confirmed he isn't foolish enough to consider victory here to be a negative as regards next week. The hype is big enough already, and he knows it. He's definitely here to win.
There is a negative though, and it goes beyond the unknowns of this new and exclusive golf course and to the weather. It's always to be factored in when betting on an event by the coast, and the weather warnings which have been issued for Thursday have to ring alarm bells. Combined with the inherent volatility of this tournament, I'll happily wait a week or more to back McIlroy.
Instead, it's Martin Kaymer who goes in as the strongest fancy having played nicely again in Ireland.
Clearly, those who were in action at Lahinch last week have an advantage here, having played competitive links golf. Stone had finished down the field at Ballyliffin before landing the 2018 Scottish Open, so had runner-up Eddie Pepperell, and something similar unfolded in 2017 when Rafa Cabrera Bello picked the pocket of Shinkwin.
That Kaymer both started and finished well for a top-10 is a bonus and as for the rest of the argument here, it's very much a repeat of last week even if he was a couple of shots shy of the places.
First and foremost, Kaymer is a class act who is on his way back. We've seen hints all spring, from a top-10 finish at the British Masters, to a final group in the Memorial Tournament, to leading at halfway back in Germany and then more promising signs in Ireland.
This step up is the product of hard work, a renewed sense of focus and acceptance, but also having one clear goal to work towards: a place in the field for next week's Open Championship, which he hasn't missed in over a decade.
Kaymer thought he was exempt for another year through his 2014 US Open win until realising that isn't the case, and he's set about fixing it. Sunday's 65 was so nearly enough for one of three available Open spots but ultimately he came up one shot shy and this is now his final chance to earn a place at Portrush.
Of course, that brings pressure, but Kaymer is a two-time major champion, a former world number one, and precisely the type of player to rise to the challenge. He only need look to Graeme McDowell for inspiration after his fellow former US Open winner made it into the field, and I for one have faith in Kaymer's ability to get the job done at the 11th hour.
"I was thinking about the Open the last four or five weeks I played," he said on Sunday.
"It was a big goal of mine to play again. I've been always part of The Open. That's the tournament I really would like to win in my career one day, and that's why I was focusing a lot on the tournament round, saving energy in the practice rounds and putting everything I have into those four rounds I had this week."
It will have been frustrating to be so close but Kaymer has exactly the right mindset to go again, and he'll hopefully feel refreshed and inspired by a trip to Wimbledon on Monday before heading to Scotland, where he won this title in 2009.
While Kaymer is of course capable on any links golf course, one obvious challenge this week was to try and work out what to expect from the Renaissance, a Tom Doak design which clearly seeks to fit in with the great links courses which surround it, but isn't quite like them.
Grant Forrest, who lives locally and has played the course a handful of times, says that through its modernity it reminds him of Castle Stuart, where Alex Noren won the Scottish Open in 2016. That may well prove to be a solid guide, but I was interested to read a piece by UK Golf Guy in which Doak says the fairways are tight and the rough is thick, which is the very opposite of Castle Stuart.
Beyond that, evidence is hard to come by except for the 2017 Scottish Senior Open, played here and won by Paul Broadhurst. It's of some interest to me that Broadhurst played with Magnus Atlevi in the final group there, because they had finished first and third in the Senior Open at Carnoustie the previous summer. This may seem tenuous in the extreme, but there are aesthetic similarities between the two courses, particularly through clutches of trees, and as we had an Open at Carnoustie last summer there's a chance history will repeat.
If it does then look to Kevin Kisner leading a strong US challenge which also includes Justin Thomas, who has hit the ball very well of late. However, I'm going to stick to those who played in Ireland last week and give Erik van Rooyen the benefit of the doubt.
Van Rooyen suffered a rare blip in what's been an outstanding year when he missed the cut at Lahinch, despite having started well. Yet we are at least compensated with the price: he's out to 50/1 from 33/1, whereas Andy Sullivan's runner-up finish means he's into 33/1 from 80/1. That's an overreaction to one week's golf in my book.
It was at this time last year that van Rooyen followed a missed cut in France with fifth place in Ireland, and after that he secured a top-20 finish at Carnoustie to further underline what's becoming a solid links profile.
This year he's thrived under tough conditions when second at the Trophee Hassan II and bagging a top-10 finish at the US PGA, while a runner-up effort in Qatar - an event he ought to have won - further underlines that this sort of test should suit him ideally.
Van Rooyen drives the ball excellently and the pressure off the tee here should bring out his best in an event which has been kind to South Africans over the last 20 years or so. It would be something to break through in a field such as this but his best chance so far came in a Rolex Series event and he has a touch of class.
Speaking of South Africans, George Coetzee shot rounds of 66 and 67 across Friday and Saturday last week having caught the eye at Valderrama, and he has form at Castle Stuart if Forrest has indeed handed us a worthwhile pointer. That earned him a place on the shortlist alongside compatriots Richard Sterne and Dylan Frittelli, with Haydn Porteous also considered having played well in the Paul Lawrie Match Play at Archerfield.
Switching time zones, last week I made the case for how well Scandinavians often fare in the UK and that remains my belief. All three of Joakim Lagergren, Anton Karlsson and Niklas Lemke played nicely in the first round without quite hitting the frame, and all three are again of interest, but none make sufficient appeal outright and Thursday's weather forecast tempers enthusiasm for a first-round leader bet.
Before I get to the final selection, as there are only three this week I'll run through some notes on others who may interest some. Firstly, Stephen Gallacher has four top-10 finishes in his last 10 Scottish Open appearances, and this is something of a home game as he's long been a member at the Renaissance.
Gallacher has won this year in India and while nothing else he's done offers any kind of encouragement, he did finish ninth at Gullane when similarly out of form. With no Open Championship in Scotland this year, the Scottish Open takes on even greater significance and we so often see someone from the home party rise to the occasion. If it's not Forrest or Robert MacIntyre, it could well be Gallacher.
Given that Doak mentioned driving as particularly relevant, anyone who is reliable off the tee earned a look and of that group, Matthieu Pavon stood out. He was playing well before missing the cut in Ireland, unable to get anything going on Friday, and he's an excellent driver who has coastal form from Mauritius to Ireland to right here in Scotland.
Lucas Herbert also goes well by the sea and in the wind, as so many Australians do, so his closing 65 on Sunday very much caught the eye while Belgian duo Thomas Detry and Nicolas Colsaerts also appeal to some degree.
However, my sole selection at a three-figure price is Lee Slattery, who was even more eye-catching than Herbert in closing with a round of 65 at Lahinch, especially as that's the score he'd opened with on Thursday.
Born and raised in Southport, it's not all that surprising that Slattery came alive by the coast and it was interesting to hear him talk about how close he's been throughout a very poor year when interviewed after an excellent opening round.
"I feel fairly fresh," he said. "I've not played much golf because I've not played the weekend that much. But I've just been very unfortunate, missing a lot of cuts by a shot. There has to be a time in the season where you turn it around, especially as hard as I work.
"We're all going for those Open spots. We all want to play the Open in Ireland, so that's in the back of our mind, too. I'm just going to push as hard as I can these next two weeks."
Slattery was ninth in this after a slow start in 2017 and does also have a top-five in the Dunhill Links, while in terms of wider high-class form he went very close to winning another Rolex Series event, the Italian Open, in May last year.
He will of course need to build on 27th place in the Irish Open, particularly as it was his best finish of the year, but that's entirely possible and the fact he relishes tackling new links venues will only help. At a big price in a hard event to solve, he's worth chancing.
Posted at 0730 BST on 09/07/19.