Sunday 17 December 2017

Rory honing links skills in bid to atone for 2015 woe

Graeme McDowell hits an approach shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell hits an approach shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Different strokes for different folks - that's the trend among the world's top players as they hone their game-plans for the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon.

Rory McIlroy announced on this day 12 months ago that he could not defend the title he won in 2014 at Hoylake due to the infamous ankle injury he suffered playing soccer on the previous weekend.

Today he is fit and well, and is scheduled to play 18 holes over the Troon layout. McIlroy played 18 there yesterday and once he completes his round today, he will spend the weekend working on his game before returning to the Open venue next Tuesday.

Jason Day and Jordan Spieth have joined McIlroy in opting out of competitive fare in favour of spending most of this week in the USA.

Spieth plans to travel later today and will possibly do some chipping and putting at Troon tomorrow afternoon.

He will most likely play 18 holes on Sunday and Monday, and then look to finalise his preparations by playing nine holes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This is in sharp contrast to last year when he successfully defended his John Deere Classic title in America and then arrived at St Andrews on the Monday of Open week - a decision which many feel cost him some vital familiarisation at the Home of Golf, and arguably, the chance of winning a third successive Major.

Day is also due to fly to Scotland today and expects to play full rounds at Troon tomorrow and on Sunday.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Dustin Johnson, winner of the US Open and last week's WGC-Bridgestone event, is reported to be spending a couple of days in Ireland to acclimatise to links fare.


Other players, including Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Phil Mickelson, feel that playing the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart is the way to go.

Harrington has no doubts about the value of this tournament.

Padraig Harrington. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"You can practise all you want, but really, a card in the hand is the most important way of getting ready for a tournament," he said.

"This is a big week for me in terms of getting ready for the Open, in seeing how the ball flies in the different temperatures and different conditions, seeing how the ball bounces on your chip shots, and how far your wedges go off the turf.

"While I adjust very quickly, and I have experience of it, and I definitely have a natural advantage to playing a links golf course, clearly you need a refresher. Put it like this: competitive golf would be a lot easier for me if we were playing on links golf courses every week."

Shane Lowry. Photo: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
Shane Lowry. Photo: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

The three-time Major winner proved that by grinding out a creditable two-under-par 70 at Castle Stuart in 30-40 mph winds which gave the 156 starters a much tougher test than they expected.

Rounds took almost six hours and at the finish, only 20 competitors, including Harrington and Graeme McDowell, both on 70, broke par.

Australia's Scott Hend and Felipe Aguilar of Chile set the target early in the day at three-under, both of them shooting 69.

Florida-based McDowell is accustomed to the sun on his back. He spent two days at Troon last weekend, and felt the early exposure to Scottish 'summer' conditions served him well.

"The wind really blew hard on Saturday and Sunday when I was there. A good couple of days at Troon really prepared me well, and it's nice to get a couple under and get off to a good start," he said.


Shane Lowry intends to wait until Monday for his first experience of the Open course.

However, if he is to avoid an early trip from the Highlands to South Ayrshire, Lowry must hope for more benign conditions at Castle Stuart today after an opening 77, five over par.

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has not qualified for Troon, and he also carded 77.

Paul Dunne, who came through qualifying to tee it up in the Open, has a challenge to make the weekend following his 78.

Michael Hoey has missed four cuts in his last six events, and he needs a really good week to qualify for the Open. He gave himself some hope with a solid start yesterday of 73.

Only four spots remain to be filled at Troon, and they will go to the four players, not otherwise exempt, who finish in the top 12 and ties at Castle Stuart.

Scottish Open Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.30am

US Women's Open Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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