Some of golf's top players return to the Scottish Open's Castle Stuart course this week to sharpen their links game before the British Open.
They'll be hoping for better weather after rain reduced last year's Scottish Open to a 54-hole tournament. The thunder storms rain caused landslides on part of the newly opened course in the Highlands, conditions residents described as the worst the region endured in half a century.
It proved a preview for the wet and wild British Open that followed at Royal St. George's. That's why top-ranked Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington are making the trip to northern Scotland again this year. Donald won by four shots last year with a three-round score of 19 under.
"I like to play links golf before I get to the (British) Open," Harrington said. "I think it's a distinctly different form of golf than what we regularly get. I know some people don't like playing the week before a major, but there's no substitute for playing competitive links golf."
Third-ranked Lee Westwood — the co-leader after the first round last year — is skipping the event. He injured his right groin when slipping as he walked to the first tee in the third round of the French Open on Saturday.
Instead, Westwood will aim to win his first major at the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's. So will Donald, a fellow Englishman who showed he has the game to master the unpredictable links by winning the Scottish Open last year.
Having spent a total of 52 weeks as No. 1, only two Europeans — Nick Faldo and the late Seve Ballesteros — have been at the summit of the rankings for a longer stretch than Donald. He won the BMW PGA Championship in his last tournament in Europe.
At that event, the weather at Wentworth was glorious and not too dissimilar to the conditions he regularly plays in on the U.S. PGA tour. The weather at the Scottish Open will be completely different.
"If the weather stays this way, it will be difficult," 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen said Tuesday. "But links golf should be harsh weather. It should be rainy. It should be windy. Otherwise, it's not the way it should be."
Mickelson, who is ranked 16th, is a regular participant at the Scottish Open. But he wasn't scheduled to compete this year until he missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic last week.
He was invited to play at Castle Stuart — increasing the number of major champions to 10. He's looking for his first win at the event, having finished runner-up in 2007 when he lost a playoff to Gregory Havret of France.
Donald will play the opening two rounds with Ernie Els, while Mickelson partners with Scottish players Martin Laird and Paul Lawrie. Harrington tees off alongside Marcel Siem, who won the French Open on Sunday.
Martin Kaymer, who won the 2009 Scottish open, is also in the field. The former top-ranked golfer has dropped to No. 14. He took a break from golf before shooting 78-77 and finish 16 over at the French Open last week.