Bulldog's blog: Castle Stuart with Paul McGinley

Alex Miceli talks with European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley during Wednesday's Pro-Am at the Scottish Open.

Senior writer Alex Miceli, affectionately known as the Bulldog, will be in England and Scotland for nearly a month and will be keeping you updated with his latest tidbits in a daily blog for Golfweek. Here is his July 10 installment . . .

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Bulldog's blog, July 8: A worthy trip to Tain

Bulldog's blog, July 9: Royal Dornoch builds on rich history

INVERNESS, Scotland - Castle Stuart is finally bustling with activity, as the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is ready to kick off and headliners Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson have made it to northern Scotland.

Els came up from his home in Wentworth, near London, fresh off a win two weeks ago in Germany at the BMW. He hadn’t originally planned to play this week, but decided to make the trip because he didn’t want to take three weeks off before his title defense at the Open Championship next week at Muirfield.

“Been to Muirfield a couple of times now, so I kind of know what I need to do,” Els said Wednesday in a news conference before the pro-am. “I’m trying out two new drivers from Callaway, and thank goodness, according to Graeme (McDowell), we have a lot of width in the fairways.”

Els’ aside about McDowell was a reference to McDowell’s comments about Castle Stuart being too easy – his reason for not playing in the Scottish Open this week.

Els, for one, loves the golf course, as does Phil Mickelson. Mickelson deflected McDowell’s comments and gave glowing comments of Gil Hanse’s work.

For Mickelson, the return to links golf has to be a happy respite after barely missing out on a U.S. Open victory at Merion, then missing the cut at The Greenbrier Classic last week.

Now he has two weeks of links golf to occupy his mind, and he believes he is up to the task.

“One of the things that came about for me the week before at Memphis (in the FedEx St. Jude Classic) and the week of the U.S. Open is that I started to play really well,” Mickelson said in his pre-tournament news conference. “ I started to strike the ball really well. My putting feels better than it has in years.”

So Mickelson is looking at what happened at Merion, where he faded into a tie for second with a final-round 74, not as a failure but as an opportunity to take advantage of where his game is now. He is focused on the second half of the year.

For me, meanwhile, the past 24 hours have been very busy.

After interviewing the legendary Bob Torrance for Golf Channel’s "On The Range" show, I went to Nairn to experience it for the first time with a club in my hand. I left the 1999 Walker Cup early and didn’t get a chance to play Nairn, but this time I made it over and was not disappointed.

With a solid wind coming from the Northeast, Nairn was relatively easy going out, but coming home against a two-club wind, the course played extremely different.

Like most of the courses in the Highlands, Nairn did not disappoint and though the sun was not cooperating for good photography, any round that finishes in daylight at 10 p.m. is a pretty good day.

As I was at my computer on Tuesday, I was approached by the Ballantine Scotch people, who were wondering if I wanted to play in the Wednesday-morning pro-am with Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.

Of course you know the answer.

In all my years out here covering golf, I have had very little contact with McGinley, but with him being the Ryder Cup captain and since all I had seen of Castle Stuart came in a buggy ride around the front nine with Frank Nobilo, I took the Ballantine people up on the their offer.

McGinley was fantastic. He was funny, he spent time trying to help those golfers who didn’t have stellar games and was a perfect pro-am partner.

We missed out on third place by one point, but perhaps the best part of the experience was getting to know Castle Stuart and McGinley a little better.

Castle Stuart is a second-shot golf course. For a professional, smashing driver around is no problem. But since the wind can come up at any time and the turf is as hard as it has been here for this event, the golf course will force precision with iron shots.

I can understand why the players on the European Tour universally like and respect McGinley. He will be a formidable Ryder Cup captain, which is exactly what the U.S. doesn’t need.

Now it’s off to Aberdeen and then St. Andrews for the next couple of days, and I will continue my musings from my trip through Scotland.

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