NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — “Too easy,” was Rory McIlroy’s reaction to the set-up of The Renaissance Club that yielded a 22 under par winning score by Bernd Wiesberger in last year’s Scottish Open. Things are likely to be a little different this time round though. For one thing, Scottish weather in early October is more than likely to contrast more than a little with Scottish weather in early July. Although there are never any guarantees on that front.
“The main difference is the time of the year,” confirms Wiesberger, who prevailed in a playoff with Frenchman Benjamin Hebert 15 months ago. “It’s four layers cold and the wind has picked up. That’s a lot different from last year, when we had perfect conditions. That led to the very low scoring.”
That isn’t likely to happen this time round. A combination of course lengthening—a couple of holes by 70-80 yards according to Wiesberger—re-routing and a bit more rough will ask a series of harder questions of the 126-man field.
“You will want to be a bit more precise off the tee,” continued the Austrian. “All in all I’m assuming that scoring is not going to go anywhere near where we had it last year.”
Happily, this week and next, when the BMW PGA Championship is held at Wentworth, also represents at least a brief return to what used to be normal on the European Tour. Financially anyway. A dozen events have been played on the Old World circuit since the restart from lockdown in early July. In total, those tournaments have (at today’s exchange rate) offered just more than $13 million in prize money. Together, courtesy of their status as Rolex Series events, the purses at the Scottish and the BMW total $14 million. But, after Wentworth, the next four European Tour tournaments are together paying just over $4.5 million.
The contrasts are both stark and obvious.
More cash has had a predictably positive effect on the quality of the fields over the next fortnight. Last week’s Irish Open “boasted” only four players from the world’s top 100. This week, 19 of that elite group will tee-up, albeit only six are in the top 50.
Tommy Fleetwood, at No.17 is the highest-ranked player in the field, is competing in his first Scottish Open since 2016 and returning to a land where he has recorded victories as an amateur and a professional. He even credits a first-round defeat to compatriot Graeme Storm in the Paul Lawrie Matchplay event at nearby Archerfield in 2016 for resurrecting a career that had faltered badly in the 18 months or so prior.
“I actually look at that as the turning point, when I started coming out of my slump that has last for more than a year,” Fleetwood says. “OK, I lost. But as I drove home I thought to myself I hadn’t played like that for so long. I didn’t miss a shot. So Archerfield was a turning point where I got things going on again. That’s a nice little positive and nice memory. I genuinely love coming to Scotland. I get a great vibe every time I come here. Playing in front of Scottish fans is always a pleasure. They know exactly what they are doing and they will be missed this week.”
Still, apart from that lack of atmosphere, things are looking up all round, at least briefly, on the European Tour.