By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 09/07/13 2:09pm
Castle Stuart: A 7,193-yard par 72
The European Tour arrives in Scotland ahead of next week's third major championship of the season.
But before the world's leading golfers head for the east coast and The Open Championship at Muirfield, a good field has assembled in the highlands close to Inverness.
Opened in 2009, the stunningly beautiful Castle Stuart runs along the southern edge of the Moray Firth and is laid out over two levels.
Holes one to seven are on the lower level, bordering the firth, while the remaining 11 are slightly elevated.
The fairways are reasonably wide, while conditions can deteriorate quickly if the weather takes a turn for the worse at this remote location.
Is it a good build-up for The Open? Well, as Peter Adams, the championship director points out: "We are delighted that Castle Stuart can boast the statistic that the last two Open champions, Darren Clarke and Ernie Els, both played in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in the week before."
Graeme McDowell, who is skipping this week's event, isn't so sure though. He claimed the Scottish Open had "lost its identity and prestige" by moving to Castle Stuart
He added that he thought the Inverness course "probably hasn't been strong enough the past couple of years" due to it being "too one-dimensional".
Luke Donald winning with -19 over 54 holes backs the idea up that it can be a little easy although Jeev Milkha Singh won with -17 over the full 72 last year and only five players broke 70 when the wind blew in the final round.
As for this week, the forecast on Tuesday morning predicts excellent weather for Thursday and Friday but suggests the wind is set to pick up on the weekend.
The leading contenders and Sky Bet prices
Ernie Els (18/1): When Els won the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2002, he was a lowly 50th in the preceding week's Scottish Open. Ironically, he won that same event 12 months later. Those two performances were at Loch Lomond but, in two visits to Castle Stuart, he hasn't clicked, finishing 25th in 2011 and 52nd in 2012. However, with the course not really running fast in either year maybe it's form we can ignore. Ernie's very latest form is excellent with a fourth in the US Open and a victory - his 28th European Tour success - in the BMW International Open last time out.
Henrik Stenson (18/1): The Swede was eighth at Castle Stuart last year, improving his position each day after finishing Thursday in a tie for 41st. He's been in fine form over the last few months with his last nine strokeplay starts including a fifth in the Players Championship, a second place in Houston and further top 10s at Bay Hill and the BMW International Open in Germany on his last start. He also got into the mix in the US Open before fading to tied 21st when looking set to make a big challenge.
Phil Mickelson (20/1): The left-hander's entry here means he will have played in all three Scottish Opens at Castle Stuart. Middle rounds of 64-65 last year suggest he can really go low here and challenge and he was very disappointed to enter the final round 12 months ago in fifth but fade to tied 16th. Mickelson also lost a play-off in the 2007 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond so he can play well in Scotland and although he missed the cut (for the third straight year) at last week's Greenbrier (74-68), before that he'd finished runner-up in successive starts (US Open and St Jude) so he's playing some fine golf at the moment.
Phil Mickelson: Third appearance here
Paul Casey: The equation is simple for Casey. If he wants to play in next week's Open Championship at Muirfield he has to win here. The good news is that he comes into the event on the back of a victory in the Irish Open (it ended a two-and-a-half year win drought) while he's won two European Tour events in Scotland (2001 Scottish PGA and 2006 Johnnie Walker Championship - both at Gleneagles) and was third in The Open at St Andrews in 2010. The bad is that he missed the cut here last year after a pair of 76s.
Thomas Bjorn: The Dane seems to be on the leaderboard every week these days and an eighth place in last week's Open de France was his fifth top 10 in seven starts. That run includes a pair of second places (Lyoness Open and BMW International Open). Another plus is that he enjoys Scotland too. He won this event when it was first held at Loch Lomond in 1996 while, more recently, he captured the 2011 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. All this may outweigh the fact that he's missed the cut in both appearances at Castle Stuart due to poor first rounds.
SELECTED PLAYERS with GOOD to REASONABLE FORM at CASTLE STUART
Full Tour History
Player: '11 / '12
Fredrik Andersson: 2 / 29
Matthew Baldwin: - / 5
Robert Coles: 10 / 36
Nicolas Colsaerts: 3 / 36
Robert-Jan Derksen: 14 / 24
Jamie Donaldson: 10 / -
Simon Dyson: 25 / 29
Alastair Forsyth: 25 / 29
Lorenzo Gagli: 3 / MC
Padraig Harrington: 14 / 16
Scott Jamieson: 3 / MC
Soren Kjeldsen: 42 / 5
Thomas Levet: - / 5
Shane Lowry: 14 / 11
David Lynn: 25 / 36
Francesco Molinari: - / 2
Alexander Noren: MC / 3
Phillip Price: Ret / 8
Jeev Milkha Singh: 42 / Won
Henrik Stenson: - / 8
Mark Tullo: 3 / -
Marc Warren: 66 / 3
Peter Whiteford: 31 / 8
Martin Wiegele: 3 / -
SELECTED PLAYERS with POOR FORM at CASTLE STUART
Full Tour History
(No Top-60 Finishes from two starts)
Player: '11 / '12
Thomas Aiken: MC / 61
Thomas Bjorn: MC / MC
Richard Bland: MC / MC
Andrew Dodt: MC / MC
David Drysdale: MC / MC
Victor Dubuisson: Ret / MC
Oliver Fisher: Ret / MC
Tano Goya: MC / MC
Gregory Havret: MC / MC
Keith Horne: MC / MC
David Howell: MC / 68
Sandy Lyle: MC / MC
Gareth Maybin: MC / MC
Gary Orr: MC / MC
Joel Sjoholm: MC / 61
Bernd Wiesberger: MC / MC
Fabrizio Zanotti: MC / MC
Players Finishing 11th - 20th at CASTLE STUART in 2012 (Not Already Listed Above)
Alejandro Canizares: (T-11th)
SSP Chowrasia: (T-11th)
Ignacio Garrido: (T-11th)
Raphael Jacquelin: (T-16th)
Martin Laird: (T-16th)
Pablo Larrazabal: (T-16th)
Phil Mickelson: (T-16th)
Andy Sullivan: (T-16th)
LOWEST 10 STROKE AVERAGES at CASTLE STUART
68.29: Jeev Milkha Singh (7)
68.43: Fredrik Andersson (7)
68.43: Shane Lowry (7)
68.57: Padraig Harrington (7)
68.57: Soren Kjeldsen (7)
68.57: Peter Whiteford (7)
68.60: Lorenzo Gagli (5)
68.71: Robert-Jan Derksen (7)
68.80: Scott Jamieson (5)
68.86: Nicolas Colsaerts (7)
Min. No. of Rounds = 5
LOWEST ROUNDS at CASTLE STUART
62: Fredrik Andersson (2011)
62: Francesco Molinari (2012)
63: Luke Donald (2011)
64: 11 times
65: 15 times
Castle Stuart: Par 72; 7,193 yards
2012: 271 (Jeev Milkha Singh)
2011: 197* (Luke Donald)
* - Tournament reduced to 54 Holes
Shane Lowry: Should relish this test
After outperforming Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell on home soil in Ireland, Shane Lowry can follow on from his fifth place at Carton House with a big challenge here.
A lover of links golf, the 26-year-old has finished 14th and 11th on two visits to Castle Stuart so clearly enjoys this picturesque seaside setting.He said he was "delighted" with the way he played in Ireland and that followed on from good efforts in Germany (22nd, final round 65) and Wentworth (12th).
"Scottish open this week and British open next week. Two great weeks and great courses. Absolutely buzzing for a bit of links golf in the sun," Lowry tweeted on Tuesday morning so he'll be right up for this and looks a solid each-way investment at 28/1.
After a strong showing in France last week when he finished fifth, Simon Dyson is also worth a play at 50/1.
The Englishman credited a sharper short game for that turnaround after three straight missed cuts and says he'll keep focusing on that part of his game as he's hitting the ball well enough.
Dyson is another who loves links golf and said at this event two years ago: "Links golf seems to suit me. I'm more of a get it around - not just bomb it and find it. I've won four times in Europe and three of them have been on links courses."
Since he said that he's gone on to add to that reputation by winning the 2011 Irish Open and the KLM Open.
The Yorkshireman, whose six European Tour wins include the 2009 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, has finished tied 25th and tied 29th in his two starts here so he's comfortable on the course and could have a big week in him.
Simon Dyson: Strong record on links courses
This could all go wrong but with Sky Bet offering a price boost of 22/1 win only for Phil Mickelson I'll also include the left-hander.
He can boast two seconds and a third in his last five starts and his form was dreadful when he finished tied 16th here last year.
Lefty was also runner-up in the 2011 Open so it's dangerous to say he can't play links golf.
2pts e.w. Shane Lowry at 28/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Simon Dyson at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
3pts win Phil Mickelson at 22/1 (price boost).
Phil Mickelson admits he is now looking to add the Open Championship to his Scottish Open victory next week.
Phil Mickelson regrouped from a dramatic final-hole blunder to win the Scottish Open after a play-off at Castle Stuart.
Henrik Stenson fired a 66 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.