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Big names playing Scottish Open for major prep

INVERNESS, Scotland – A host of the world’s leading players will flock to the Scottish Open this week to test their links game on the recently opened Castle Stuart course in preparation for the British Open.

Hoping to experience conditions similar to those that will greet them at Royal St. George’s next week for the third major of the year, top-ranked Luke Donald will be joined in the north of Scotland by four other players in the top 10: Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and American pair Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.

They’ll be among a field bidding to wrest the title from Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, who is defending the trophy he won at Loch Lomond.

“We hardly ever play links golf and it’s very different to what I play week in, week out,” Donald said. “It takes some time to adjust to where to land the ball, those chip-and-run shots you get a lot.

“To get in an extra week of practice on links in tournament conditions under pressure is very helpful. I’m sure it will be good preparation.”

As popular as the Loch Lomond course is – and it has held the Scottish Open for the past 15 years – it is a parkland venue and was never regarded as a genuine taster for the British Open the following week.

Mickelson was the only top-10 player in last year’s event but there is more star quality 12 months on, although U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and the injured Tiger Woods won’t be present at the $4.8 million event.

Organizers say they have made fairways wide open with birdie and eagle opportunities aplenty, but tough weather conditions for the Scottish coast – which have been forecast – could play havoc, especially on the many unsheltered parts of the par-72 course that was only fully opened last year.

“If the wind keeps going, it’s going to be a decent test of golf,” reigning champion Molinari said. “It’s not going to be level-par winning, but it’s not going to be 25-under par winning either.”

Donald and Westwood will renew their battle for the No. 1 spot, with Westwood knowing he’ll supplant his fellow Englishman with a victory, or even a top-five finish depending on where Donald ends up.

Westwood is in the same group as Molinari for the first two rounds while No. 6-ranked Mickelson, with only one tournament victory since winning The Masters last year for the third time, is joined by three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.

“Starting here at the (Scottish Open), I will be playing almost every week in big events and trying to get a level of play out of my game that hasn’t been there as often as I would like,” said Mickelson, who was at Wimbledon to watch the men’s singles tennis final on Sunday.

“I love playing the week before a major and getting acclimatized. I feel my game is right there and Loch Lomond was great. But playing at a links-style course the week before the British Open is an ideal way to get ready.”

There was heavy rain at Castle Stuart for the pro-am on Wednesday and more showers and wind are expected through to the weekend.

“Like most links courses, how difficult it plays will be determined by the weather,” Westwood said. “The weather is a bigger variable than most other tournaments because the tide changes and things like that.

“But this is excellent preparation. It’s a great setting.”