McIlroy’s return, big names & buckets of rain – Scottish Open preview

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If the 2024 Scottish Open gets anywhere close to matching the drama of 12 months ago, we are in for a treat.

It was a tournament settled by a shot so outrageously good it has merited its own plaque.

Just over 200 yards from the green at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian there is now a commemorative reminder of Rory McIlroy’s moment of brilliance.

Having birdied the tough 17th, the Northern Irishman then arrowed a two-iron into a fierce wind to within 10 feet of the hole to set up a title-winning putt. It was a fitting finale to an epic battle for glory with home favourite Robert MacIntyre.

While the race for the Claret Jug the following week at Hoylake became a procession for Brian Harman, the Scottish Open had viewers on the edge of their seat until the final putt dropped.

A world-class field once again descends on North Berwick for the co-sanctioned PGA Tour and DP World Tour event, with defending champion McIlroy topping the bill.

The heroics of his first win in Scotland are of course a far cry from the crestfallen McIlroy who was last seen on a golf course almost a month ago, when the US Open was in his grasp before a catastrophic finish prolonged his 10-year major drought and allowed Bryson DeChambeau to snatch the title.

McIlroy, no stranger to the glare of the spotlight, will have the eyes of the golf world on him on his return to action, with The Open tantalisingly beckoning next week.

The Scottish Open tees off a fortnight of golfing nirvana. North Berwick on Scotland’s east coast and Royal Troon, roughly 100 miles away on the west, will be the centre of the universe over the next two weeks.

Six of the world's top 10, new US PGA champion Xander Schauffele among them, are in a stellar cast list at The Renaissance Club.

In a canny move by organisers, McIlroy is joined by MacIntyre and another Ryder Cup star, Viktor Hovland, in a European super grouping for Thursday and Friday.

And how about Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg, former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, and former Open champion Collin Morikawa for another trio worth following?

Boasting a $9m (£7m) prize fund, the Scottish Open also provides an ideal opportunity to acclimatise to the intricacies and undulations of links golf before The Open.

And then there’s the weather. American visitors may well learn a new word in the next few days – 'drookit'. Rain – lots of it – is forecast. Mercifully for the players, winds are expected to be relatively tame, at around the 10mph mark.

Whatever the elements, an appreciative crowd awaits, as acknowledged by 2022 Scottish Open winner Schauffele.

"Not that all fans don't appreciate golf, but there's a deeper appreciation here. They know what a good shot looks like," said the American.

"It feels like in the US, a few times we get a lot of rain and wind, the course is pretty empty.

"It could be blowing 25mph and rain here and people will be right by your side in shorts and T-shirt and loving every second of it. That's the appreciation they have for golf and it's awesome to have fans wear the weather with you."

Fellow American Stewart Cink – the 2009 Open champion – is even giving a senior major – the Kaulig Companies Championship – a miss this week to instead tee it up at Renaissance.

"I just love coming to Scotland and part of me thinks I should have been born here," Cink, 51, told BBC Scotland.

"It’s very important to come and play [before The Open]. Conditions are different, the air treats the ball differently, everything is just a little different. You have to get your body acclimated and its good to get used to the turf and the strike and the distance control."

After coming so agonisingly close 12 months ago, MacIntyre is "going there to win" this year.

The 27-year-old is now a PGA Tour champion, having memorably triumphed at the Canadian Open last month with dad Dougie on the bag, but the Oban native relishes few things more than playing in front of a home crowd.

He is not the only Scot making a serious impact. Ewen Ferguson heads to East Lothian fresh from winning the DP World Tour’s BMW International Open on Sunday, his first title in two years.

That success has earned Ferguson, 28, entry to The Open, as well as an eye-catching grouping alongside Jordan Spieth and Matt Fitzpatrick for the first two days in North Berwick.

There are two further Royal Troon spots up for grabs this week.

In all, there are seven Scots in the Scottish Open field. Might one of them reign in the rain to become the first home winner since Colin Montgomerie 25 years ago?

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