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Power Rankings: Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open

Ernie Els
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While the PGA Tour remains in America's heartland this week, the European Tour stages one of its biggest events at Castle Stuart with the British Open now just days away. A world-class field will tee it up in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, hoping to get a feel for links golf in Scotland before heading to Muirfield next week.

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Jeev Milkha Singh returns as defending champion, a title he won last year in a playoff over Francesco Molinari. Here are 10 players to watch this week in Inverness:

1. Ernie Els: With the defense of his British Open title on the horizon, the South African is clearly rounding into form, with a T-4 finish at Merion followed by a win in Germany. While much of Els' success in this event came at Loch Lomond, he has made the cut in two of three appearances at Castle Stuart, including a T-25 result in 2011.

2. Francesco Molinari: The Italian clearly feels comfortable at Castle Stuart, with last year's runner-up performance coming on the heels of a fourth-place showing in 2010. Molinari has four top-25 finishes in his last six starts, including a tie for 18th last week in France.

3. Shane Lowry: The Irishman made headlines earlier this year when he ousted Rory McIlroy at Dove Mountain, but his success in this event is well-established, with top-15 finishes in each of the last three years at Castle Stuart. Lowry's game appears to be in order, as he enters off a T-5 showing at The Irish Open just two weeks ago.

4. Matteo Manassero: Among the hottest players in the world, the young Italian has five top-25 finishes in his last six overall starts, including a breakthrough win at Wentworth. He tied for 36th at Castle Stuart a year ago but appears poised to take his game to a new level.

5. Henrik Stenson: The Swede is in the midst of an impressive comeback season, one that is likely to continue this week in an event where he tied for eighth in 2012. His T-21 finish at Merion was followed by a top-10 result in Munich, and Stenson is one of several in this week's field hoping for another high result before heading to Muirfield.

6. Phil Mickelson: Trying to predict Mickelson's performances this year has largely been an exercise in futility, but he's still likely to contend this week despite a missed cut in West Virginia a week ago. A mainstay in this event regardless of venue, Lefty's result has gotten progressively better in the three years at Castle Stuart, including his tie for 16th a year ago.

7. Nicolas Colsaerts: The 'Belgian Bomber' has a pair of top-25 finishes in his last three worldwide starts, including a tie for 10th at the U.S. Open. Having tied for third at Castle Stuart in 2011, Colsaerts sits among the top 10 on both the PGA and European Tours in driving distance and among the top 25 in GIR percentage.

8. Padraig Harrington: The three-time major champion appears to have no issue with the venue change for this event, having tied for 14th in 2011 and tied for 16th a year ago. Harrington surprisingly missed the cut in the Irish Open his last time out, but has an established track record of playing well the week before a major.

9. Alexander Noren: The Swede is quietly having a successful summer, with top-10 finishes in three of his last six starts on the European Tour, including ties for fourth at both the Nordea Masters and BMW International Open last month. Noren led after 36 holes last year at Castle Stuart, ultimately tying for third, just one shot out of the playoff between Singh and Molinari.

10. Martin Laird: A winner on the PGA Tour earlier this season in San Antonio, Laird will have the support of fans this week in his native land. He's found success in this event three of the last four years, including a tenth-place showing in 2010 and a tie for 16th last year, when he was firmly in contention before fading with a final-round 74.