One thing certain at Hoylake - it’s a wide Open field

hil 'Mickelson lost his 'Scottish Open title and will have a fight on to retain the Claret Jug
hil 'Mickelson lost his 'Scottish Open title and will have a fight on to retain the Claret Jug
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Get your money on the Scottish connection producing another Open champion on Merseyside this week.

Warming up for the Claret Jug joust in the Scottish Open worked wonders for Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson over the last three years.

They all hit shots on their way to winning at Castle Stuart that paid dividends at Royal St George’s, Royal Lytham and Muirfield respectively.

If anything, there’s even more reason to think this year’s Open winner was in the Scottish Open field last week.

Royal Aberdeen, after all, probably provided the best Open preparation since the ‘warm-up’ event was held at Carnoustie in the mid-90s.

For the most part, it was windy up in the Granite City and, in Friday’s second round in particular, the test was ferocious.

Four days of that wouldn’t have been ideal but one did just nicely for those hoping to be in contention at Royal Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.

Mickelson may have lost his Scottish Open title but that will only have made him all the more determined to hold on to the Claret Jug.

He felt his game had improved with every passing day in Aberdeen. That, coupled with pressure he once felt coming into The Open having been lifted, could give him a serious chance of winning again.

Tiger Woods was the last American to achieve that feat in the event and, if you’re into omens, it happened here eight years ago. Woods used only one driver on that occasion as he plotted his way around a course that was burnt to a crisp in the hot weather.

Much greener, it’s a different proposition this time around for Woods.

That’s not the strongest part of his game, though there’s another reason, of course, why it’s unlikely that he can be the Wirral winner again.

The 14-times major champion has only played two competitive rounds since March after undergoing back surgery.

Understandably, he was rust-ridden when missing the cut in the PGA Tour event at Congressional three weeks ago.

He’ll have no doubt worked his socks off back home in Florida since then but it would be truly remarkable if Woods overcame his far from ideal preparation to claim a fourth Open title. A more likely winner is on-form Justin Rose. He produced an impressive performance to win the Scottish Open – his second success in two events.

It hoisted him to No.3 in the world rankings and everything points to the Englishman being a serious contender on home soil.

Rose blooms on tough tracks. As well as Royal Aberdeen, he’s won at Congressional, Merion, Valderrama and Doral.

He produced a masterclass to win the US Open and there’s every chance we’ll see another one this week. The ‘Mickelson Double’ is a distinct possibility.

Others bidding to follow in the spikemarks of Clarke, Els and Mickelson are Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler after they also used the Scottish Open as their warm up for this week.

In the case of McIlroy, his first challenge will be two have two solid opening rounds instead of the terrific Thursday then freaky Friday that has been his story this season. If he can achieve that, then McIlroy can certainly get in the mix. He’s under-achieved so far this year but winning a third major title here would definitely make amends.

Fowler? The colourful American could well be the darkhorse. He just loves links golf. He can play in bad weather, too, having proved that when it was hosing it down on the Saturday at Sandwich three years ago.

What about the Scots? We’ve got eight in the field – double the total from eight years ago, when neither Paul Lawrie, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie or Scott Drummond survived the cut. It was a nadir for Scottish golf but a much better showing is expected this time.

Lothians star Stephen Gallacher, for instance, is heading into this event on a high. He’s up to 33rd in the world, having signed off in Aberdeen with a course-record 63.

Another strong showing here would go along way to securing the Ryder Cup spot he’s chasing at Gleneagles in September.

Marc Warren, third in the Scottish Open, and Scott Jamieson, also have the talent to make their presence felt on this stage. So, too, of course, is Lawrie, even though he’s been pulling his hair out for the past year due to putting woes.

Amateur ace Bradley Neil is also in the contingent, as are Bonnyrigg-based Jamie McLeary and Braid Hills-attached Paul McKechnie.

Thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday and Friday. Come Sunday, expect that Scottish Open lightning to strike for a fourth time!