This tournament is seen as the final warm-up for the British Open, and if you’re a South African golfing fanatic, this weekend is a mouth-watering prospect. Since the tournament’s beginning in 1972, SA golfers have won no less than four times, with Tim Clark and Retief Goosen each winning once, while Ernie Els has won it twice. We’ve had numerous runners-up too, with James Kingston, Ernie Els and Charl Schwartzel just losing out. The event purse is the largest in a European Tour event that is not co-sanctioned by the US Tour.
South Africa will be represented by just over a dozen players, with Ernie Els, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and George Coetzee forming part of the contingent. There are high hopes for these four golfers this weekend and I hope they perform well.
Englishman and current World No 1 Luke Donald will be back to defend his title in what will be the ultimate test of current form ahead of next week’s Open at Royal Lytham. He hasn’t played any competitive golf since missing the cut at the US Open, but he will have used this time constructively and will be prepared for the next two intensive weeks. Last time around he cruised to a four-shot victory and all eyes will be on him to see if he can repeat the performance.
Padraig Harrington is also worth keeping an eye on, as he too is having a good run of form. A 7th place finish at Portrush, a tie for 4th in the US Open and an 8th in the Masters showed us that the Irishman still very much has it and can’t be ruled out.
The Scots will be out in full force, with Colin Montgomerie, Martin Laird and Paul Lawrie leading a large field of no fewer than 21 entrants, including amateurs. They’ll be playing with a point to prove, as a Scot hasn’t won this tournament since 1999, when Monty won.
The tournament is being held at the Castle Stuart course, which is set on the shores of the Moray Firth. This course plays out to a par 72 and it’s rather lengthy at 6 409m. In typical links fashion, the course makes clever use of the terrain and shots may have some unfortunate bounces.
Players should be cautious around the very tricky par-5 6th hole, which features a terribly narrow and long green. Two bunkers that appear to be in perfect ambushing positions surround this green and even for the longest of hitters, getting onto the putting surface in two is a challenge.
The second hole that’s noteworthy is the short par-three 17th that looks rather straightforward but with the infamous Scottish wind howling at you, it poses quite a challenge. The pros will be trying their luck and going for the pin but this has the potential to go disastrously wrong.
Providing the weather plays along, we should be in for some entertaining golf this weekend. I’m going for either Donald or Harrington to take it and I’m hoping at least one of the South Africans finishes in the top five.
Check out this awesome aerial video of the Castle Stuart golf course: