Home of Golf under the Hammer? Horschel chases European Tour double: Dunhill Links punter pointers

Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and The Old Course in St Andrews once again host the celebration of seaside golf in Scotland.

The European Tour's traditional end-of-summer/start-of-autumn venture to the Home of Golf returns to the schedule this week after last year's cancellation due to Covid.

It's a fond revival, but it's also undeniable that the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is something of a rum week.

On the one hand, it's hosted by the glorious trio of Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and The Old Course, features plenty of fun social occasions, and boasts a cast of extras which includes sport stars, actors and musicians among the Am section of the Pro-Am format.

On the other hand, the pace of the action is glacial and those amateurs also include a host of rich people you've never heard of.

Even at its best golf can be a peculiar spectator sport and Scotland in October is not necessarily the best time: you can be stood in a cold wind, peering into a grey-white sky, seeking to watch a tiny grey-white ball hit by a distant golfer wrapped up like a Gortex Invisible Man.

It's mad enough to be attempting such an activity when the golfer is any good, but when he's a 22-handicap logistics billionaire you've never heard of it can prompt nothing less than an existential crisis.

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The good news is that the auld grey toun is just yards away and that's the real draw of the week - to wander the streets, sup the ale, soak up the atmosphere and only glance at the leaderboard every now and again.

Let's take a look at a few golfers who can feature this week.

Home of Golf under the Hammer?

When he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth earlier this month American Billy Horschel celebrated with a hammer sign on the 18th green.

The 34-year-old's triumph was no great surprise because he'd already revealed in his first appearance at the event two years ago that the tournament and the course were close to his heart thanks to memories of watching them on television as a young boy.

It was not just his support of a local football club, but also of the event and the Tour, which made Horschel so popular in Surrey and there's every chance that the good vibes will follow him to Scotland.

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Having won at the home of the European Tour, can he complete the double at the home of the sport?

His form is strong: he's finished first and second in WGC events earlier this year, and this month was the seventh lowest scorer at the PGA's Tour Championship ahead of his Wentworth win.

The bigger problem might be his linksland form. He's played seven Opens and one Scottish Open with a best of T30th (but that was on the Old Course).

The double would be a great story, but it might be wise to take him on in a matchbet this week.

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How will the returning European Ryder Cup team fare?

Padraig Harrington's will not be the first European team to return home from the States feeling despondent after a flat performance.

Back in 2016 the US won the match 17-11 at Hazeltine and the effect on the vanquished was quite profound. Six of that team teed it up in this event and only one (Martin Kaymer, tied sixth) made the top 30.

Eight years before that Nick Faldo's team were somewhat hapless at Valhalla, but less frazzled upon their return.

Four of them failed to make the top 30, but Lee Westwood, Soren Hansen and Paul Casey were tied eighth, Harrington T13th, and Robert Karlsson lifted the trophy.

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It's a sign of the times that only handful of last week's battered and bruised team travel to Fife this week, but all three of them have superb tournament records.

Tyrrell Hatton is a two-time winner, Tommy Fleetwood a five-time top five finisher, and Shane Lowry has landed six top 25 finishes.

You could also consider Captain Harrington himself (another two-time winner) and vice-captain Martin Kaymer, who has victory and a near miss (play-off defeat) in his log book. The latter might be the pick given that he could be motivated by the urge to play next time rather than hand out the high energy flapjacks.

The amateur links

Three past winners of the St Andrews Links Trophy have gone close to completing another double - amateur and professional victories on the Old Course - and all three are well worth considering again.

2011 champion Tom Lewis will be hoping that his return from the PGA Tour can revive his form in his golfing sweet spot. In addition to victory in St Andrews as a youngster he also claimed both the Boys Championship and a share of the Open first round lead at Royal St George's. He's a three-time top 10 finisher in this week's event, two of them top fives.

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Lewis succeeded Matthew Southgate who boasts similar links pedigree: he's finished T12th and tied sixth at the Open, is a mini tour winner at Royal St George's, a member at Carnoustie and finished second the last time this event was held in 2019, leading through 16 holes of the final round before Victor Perez pounced.

The third Englishman with strong seaside connections is Matthew Jordan. He's a member at Royal Liverpool, won the Lytham Trophy as an amateur, grabbed the first round lead at Hillside in the 2019 British Masters, had the halfway lead in this event later the same year (on his way to fifth), and was sixth when the circuit was last in the town (at Fairmont St Andrews in August).

READ MORE: What next for USA's Ryder Cup stars after their demolition of Europe?

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