Henrik Stenson will warm up for his British Open defense the same way he prepared to win it last year, by playing in the Scottish Open.
The Swede has officially committed to playing Dundonald Links in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open the week before he heads to Royal Birkdale to try to become the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to successfully defend his Open title.
“I played the Scottish Open in 2013 and went on to finish second to Phil (Mickelson) in The Open the following week,” Stenson said. “Then I missed Scotland for a couple of years and didn’t do that well the following week. I played last year the week before Troon and we all know how that turned out, so playing in the Scottish Open definitely helps to fine tune the links game.”
Royal Troon is just a few miles down the coast from Dundonald, so don’t be surprised if Stenson drops in for a trip down memory lane.
Aaron Rai’s victory on the European Challenge Tour had this correspondent scratching his head wondering who on earth he is.
Rai wasn’t one of the favorites heading into the tournament even though he finished 18th on last year’s European Challenge Tour. Yet the 22-year-old Englishman ran out a three-shot winner over France’s Adrien Saddier to earn €35,200 (approx. $38,000) to leap to the top of the Challenge Tour’s order of merit.
I never came across Rai’s name in amateur golf, and I pay particular attention to the unpaid game in the British Isles. All I know is what I’ve gathered off the European Tour website: that Rai turned pro in 2012 off a handicap of plus 1, stands at 5 feet, 11 inches, weighs 150 pounds and hails from Wolverhampton, England.
England has been mass producing stars for years now, but Rai comes out of the blue. It will be interesting to watch his progress this year to see if he can join Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick and other young English European Tour stars.
Oh, Danny boy!
You have to fear for Danny Willett’s Masters defense after the run he’s been on.
Willett salvaged some personal pride in the WGC–Dell Technologies Match Play when he defeated Scotland’s Russell Knox after losing his opening two matches. It came just a week after he had to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational due to illness. He also missed the cut in the Honda Classic.
Willett did finish fifth in the Maybank Championship after missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and finishing T-54 in Dubai. It remains his only successful week of the year.
The 29-year-old Englishman desperately needs to find some form before heading to Augusta.