Following his success in France, where he finished in the money despite being a 150/1 long shot, Ben Coley will next compete in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.
Golf betting tips: Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
- 2pts e.w. Alex Noren at 40/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
- 1pt e.w. Thorbjorn Olesen at 66/1 (Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
- 1pt e.w. Ewen Ferguson at 100/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
- 1pt e.w. Tom Lewis at 110/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
- 1pt e.w. Tapio Pulkkanen at 175/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
- 1pt e.w. Lucas Bjerregaard at 225/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is the final of ten tournaments in the United Kingdom and Ireland this year, and there is a strong field as usual for what is a lucrative event. It may be a pro-am, but when there’s a trophy to be won at the Old Course, things have to get serious at some point, and the size of the prize fund means this is a crucial week for those vying for their status.
Rory McIlroy returns after missing last year’s renewal, and with his status as the world’s best driver restored, he’s back on top. McIlroy won the FedEx Cup before finishing second at Wentworth and fourth in Italy, with two wins and nine other finishes in 13 starts dating back to the Masters. No surprise he’s been chalked up at prices that won’t make you money if he does hit the frame again.
McIlroy, who is here with his father, has a lot to play for, and that’s before you think back to July, if you can do so without getting upset. McIlroy’s response to his Open Championship heartbreak has been impressive, but you can bet it still hurts, and he might need to be on WhatsApp with Bob Rotella all week if he’s to stride these fairways without breaking down.
Next in line are Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, and Thomas Pieters, implying that half of next year’s European Ryder Cup team will be present. It’s been a good little run for those hoping to join these world-class players in Rome, and if you look down the odds list, you’ll see a slew of names who could be Luke Donald’s wild cards, all of whom are contenders for glory this Sunday.
However, if you shift your focus to the weather forecast, you might reconsider taking short prices. The slow greens and simple pins of this pro-am will always help, and the forecast for Friday in particular calls for strong winds and heavy rain. With the first tee time set for 9 a.m. and rounds lasting more than six hours, no one will be able to avoid the full force of the elements if the forecast holds.
Even in good weather, the three-course rotation and the inherent uncertainty of links golf make this a week for taking chances, even if strong fields tend to produce strong rolls of honour. It’s no coincidence that this event and the Scottish Open have been more volatile, so while Hatton, Fleetwood, and Lowry should play well, as they usually do here, they can be challenged alongside the favorite.
I’ll begin with ALEX NOREN, who has all of the tools to win and appears overpriced at 40/1.
The Swede is a 10-time winner on the DP World Tour, with four of those victories coming in the UK and one under links conditions, as he defeated subsequent Dunhill winner Hatton in the Scottish Open in 2016.
He finished third in that event previously, and with five Open Championship top-20s from just ten starts, he’s undeniably a specialist in these conditions, which include cool, damp weather. He’s thrived in the UK, like so many Scandinavians, and this familiarity has often proven decisive in the Dunhill Links. Victor Perez, the 2019 winner, was also in Scotland at the time.
Noren’s record here includes a third-place finish a decade ago, an 11th-place finish in 2016, and top-15 finishes in each of his last two starts, and it would be incorrect to assume he’s always arrived a better player than he is now. In fact, there are parallels with 2012, when he rose to 51st in the world rankings following his second top-three finish of the year, the other coming in the Scottish Open.
This time, Noren is ranked 54th, so another strong finish could secure his place in the majors next year, as well as a start in the DP World Tour Championship. Getting that in the bag now will undoubtedly be the priority as he prepares to return to the United States to begin his PGA Tour campaign as he continues to balance life as a member of both circuits.
It’s true that his long game hasn’t been firing lately, but he had a solid start to the season, finishing 36th in the Fortinet Championship, and it’s only been a handful of starts since he was second in the Barracuda, having played there rather than hanging around as an alternate here at St Andrews.
As it turned out, Noren would have made the Open field, so there’s an added motivational factor at work, but the key messages are about his class, his suitability to the courses and format, and how often we see players return to Europe and contend after a stint on the far deeper PGA Tour.
Noren’s record at Carnoustie in particular is noteworthy. He shot a bogey-free 64 in 2016, finished 17th in the Open two years later, and has two bogeys in his last 36 holes at this event. With scores of 64 at the Old Course and 65 at Kingsbarns, he’s answered every question this one-of-a-kind tournament can throw at him.
He’s played well both times we’ve seen him on the DP World Tour this year (30th in the Scottish Open, 15th after a slow start to the Scandinavian Mixed), and at the prices, he’s by far the most appealing bet in the tournament.
To be honest, there’s nobody else I’d want to take a chance on in this market. Perhaps Louis Oosthuizen will step up, but of all the LIV players, he has appeared most content to cruise around and top up the retirement fund, and while he has won at the Old Course, he hasn’t generally been a threat in this.
More Danish treats for Olesen?
As a result, the search expands to include those at higher prices as well as another Scandinavian, THORBJORN OLESEN.
After finishing second to Branden Grace in the van here in 2012, Olesen returned three years later to win the biggest title of his career despite a final-round wobble. He finished with a couple of shots to spare, having built his week around a strong start at Carnoustie, as so many previous winners have done.
Although he hasn’t been a factor since, two missed cuts were by razor-thin margins, and he skipped the event in 2018, which was held a week after the Ryder Cup. He was suspended in 2019, and last year’s effort was his sixth missed cut in a row as he desperately sought form.
That search was finally ended in May at the Belfry, when he conjured a magical finish to win the British Masters, making it two wins in the UK, where he’s been based for so long. With a top-10 finish in the Open to his name, Olesen is extremely comfortable in the conditions we’ll see this week, which is backed up by an outstanding record in Doha and the often-windy Middle East in general, as well as his first European Tour victory in Sicily.
Last week, he was one of the top handful in the market in France, where his feast-or-famine course record was put to the test, and had he putted well, he could have denied us Guido Migliozzi’s spectacular Sunday. Olesen was the best player in the field from tee to green, only to finish 73rd out of 78 with the putter, a rare blunder for a player who has relied on that club and won at the Belfry because of it.
Expect a better-than-average return, and in that case, we might just need some luck with the draw and off the tee. It’s probably not a coincidence that Olesen, who can be erratic with the driver at times, produced his best strokes-gained figures of the season on a course where the driver is frequently left in the bag. He’ll need it more here, and avoiding big misses will be critical to his chances.
As a former Ryder Cup player who also won the Rolex Series that year, we know he has the class, and there’s substance to his recent form, which dates back to the middle of July. Only at Wentworth has he underperformed, and Olesen almost always underperforms there. He appears to be a genuine player.
Lewis’s confidence has returned just in time.
Because of the market’s strength at the top, we see big prices next to the names of very good players, and the only concern I have about taking a few of them is what happened in Italy two weeks ago. The top eight were all DP World Tour winners, with six of them also holding PGA Tour cards. However, we return to links golf, the possibility of wind and rain, and the event’s recent history of big-priced winners.
Perhaps TOM LEWIS could add his name to the list, having contributed to my earlier point about players returning from America and discovering that things come much more easily to them.
Lewis had a miserable Korn Ferry Tour season, but has come back and gone 13-71-12-16-50, competing in Denmark, sitting third at halfway in Italy, and even last week finishing close to the places until a difficult Sunday at a course that stifles him and where he’d done nothing of note previously.
I felt cheated after picking him at 150/1 for the Italian Open and watching him struggle in round three, where he was pitted against McIlroy and Fitzpatrick. It may sound like a dream draw, but it’s likely a nightmare for a player who is still working on things and has lost confidence, especially a quiet character like Lewis who hasn’t always relished the spotlight.
He rallied on Sunday before a late stumble, but it was clear how strong his overall performance had been. Whereas he had relied on his putter in the Czech Republic and Denmark, particularly in the latter event, he was the best iron player in an elite field in Rome. Then, last week in France, he finished ninth off the tee for his best driving performance of the year, with his approach work (10th) remaining of very high quality. That putter let him down this time.
It’s not uncommon for players with his profile to have difficulty getting everything to click, but it could happen here. Lewis has three top-10 finishes in the race, including 152nd on the Race to Dubai during a disastrous 2013 season. He returns nine years later, ranked 157th and without a winner’s exemption, indicating that he’s entering the final stretch with a clear goal in mind.
Lewis finished fifth in 2019 after shooting 65-64 over the weekend. He also played well here last year when in poor form, and he’s scored at all three courses over the years. Carnoustie would still be the main concern, as would how he goes about getting the putter warmed up again, but he’s done everything well in bursts over the last six weeks and smacks of a player who will soon make it count.
Lewis, who is here on an invite and currently lacks any sort of status for 2023, has to be worth another shot.
Is it Fergie time?
At a comparable price, two-time winner EWEN FERGUSON should be on any shortlist, and with conditions more likely to suit him than Nicolai Hojgaard, I’m inclined to back the Scot.
Hojgaard successfully defended his Italian Open title before traveling to Paris for the weekend, where he was shackled off the tee and scored accordingly. He’ll be able to open his shoulders again here, and I believe we’ll see something from him before the end of the year, but fighting the wind and rain on Friday might just expose him.
It has the potential to do the same for Ferguson, whose short game has been the only real issue during a string of missed cuts. However, they were on difficult courses he’d never played before, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, especially since his putting has improved and his work around the greens helped him win second place in Northern Ireland.
Ferguson was a Challenge Tour player during last year’s renewal and has since taken his game up a notch or two, with his breakthrough victory in Qatar correlating nicely with many a past Dunhill Links champion, including Grace, Olesen, Oliver Wilson, David Howell, and Robert Karlsson.
Both that and his ISPS Handa World Invitational victory demonstrated that he was most effective in difficult conditions, as did his performance in the Made in HimmerLand, when he was cruelly denied by Wilson in another event that tends to provide Dunhill Links clues.
Ferguson won the Scottish Boys’ near the sea at West Kilbride and the Boys Amateur Championship at Hoylake, so links golf is in his blood. This summer, in addition to getting into the mix early in the Scottish Open, he carded a second-round 61 at Fairmont St Andrews.
Winning an event like this would necessitate another step up, but he’s in his element and his recent form figures are unconcerned.
Richie Ramsay, a compatriot, is still very pleased with his long game, and for good reason. He’s already won by the sea this year and is another 100/1 shot with a chance, but I prefer Finland’s TAPIO PULKKANEN at roughly twice the price.
Pulkkanen had an incredible performance here in 2018, shooting 76 on day one to finish 109th before rounds of 67, 64, and 69 secured fourth place and earned him playing rights for the following season. The middle of the three was the lowest score at Carnoustie that day by three shots, and nobody bettered 66 all week.
He returned in 2019 and opened 65-68, this time falling short at Carnoustie, so there’s plenty of evidence that he has what it takes to do well in the event and put his power to use at the Old Course.
Best of all, Pulkkanen returns to the tournament playing some of his best golf of his career. Third place in the Czech Masters came on the same course where he’d finished second a year before, and he’s followed it up with a formline of 22-MC-23-30, the missed cut coming at Wentworth in an unusual event, in elite company, and on a course not designed for him.
Last week’s 30th was by far his best performance in Paris, and before that he’d hung around on the outskirts of the places all week in Rome, so having demonstrated his ability to adapt to all three courses, he rates as an intriguing player at big odds.
For those who want to be a little less speculative, Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace are two class acts at around the 66/1 mark, while Wilco Nienaber falls into the same category as Nicolai Hojgaard as someone I’d have been more inclined to risk had the forecast been better.
The following player is LUCAS BJERREGAARD, who won one of the tournament’s most difficult editions in 2018.
Since finishing 27th on the PGA Tour in July, this formerly top-tier prospect has appeared to be on the right track. Each of the four cuts he’s missed since then has shown promise, as have the four he’s made, including a third-place finish at Celtic Manor.
Despite his efforts, Bjerregaard is currently ranked 153rd in the Race to Dubai, so he needs a strong finish soon if he wants to keep his spot. It’s a familiar storyline this time of year, and Bjerregaard has been there and done it before, finishing runner-up in Portugal last November when he was almost out of time.
Significantly, that was the site of his first European Tour victory four years earlier, so where better to secure his 2023 playing rights than in the event where he won his second victory four years ago?
Bjerregaard comes in after finishing 20th in the Open de France, his best finish in six starts, and his iron play has improved almost beyond measure this summer. Solid around the greens and still a very good putter on his day, so much will depend on what happens to the occasional stray tee shot.
There are undoubtedly places on all three courses that could prove expensive to visit, but we saw how vulnerable St Andrews can be to long driving during the Open, and having been on at the same price in Italy, I can’t let him go unbacked here in Scotland.
Matt’s younger brother, Alex Fitzpatrick, was a world-class amateur, and he’s starting to show what he can do as a professional, finishing 27th in Italy and 13th in France. That’s solid form by any standard, and it’s a little surprising to see him at 300/1 after hitting the ball so well at Le Golf National.
It’s probably too soon for the 23-year-old, but he’s a serious talent on the rise, and with nearly €70,000 in his bank account after the last two weeks, he must be feeling good as he makes his debut in this event. McIlroy finished third a month after turning pro, and others have overcome a lack of experience here early in their careers.
Marc Warren and Robert Rock, on the other hand, are two veterans who could appear. Both were competing for the 2020 Scottish Open, which was played in bad weather, and Warren’s earlier victory in Austria had come in a downpour. Rock, of course, lost a play-off to Lowry at the Irish Open in 2009, and his links record over the years is solid, including a top ten finish in the Open at St Andrews.
Throwing another couple of darts at these two or the younger Fitzpatrick is appealing, with the weather, nature of the event, and links golf all adding welcome uncertainty.