Golf

Ryan Fox can prove the strongest link again as focus turns from Rome to Scotland

Ryan Fox could well mount a successful defence of his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland this week	 Picture by PA
Ryan Fox could well mount a successful defence of his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland this week Picture by PA Ryan Fox could well mount a successful defence of his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland this week Picture by PA

ON Sunday night, I found myself going back through the Irish News archive to refresh my memory about how I reacted to America’s hammering of Europe in the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. 

The home side dished out a record 19-9 beating, with all 12 of their superstars playing a significant role before embarking on raucous celebrations. 

In the immediate aftermath of that match, it was hard to see how Europe could turn things round for the 2023 renewal, with the task in hand for the next captain – Lee Westwood was suggested – a huge one focussed primarily on regeneration for the future. 

Back then, LIV Golf was just a peripheral dot on the landscape, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau were primed to play major roles in US sides for a few years to come, and Europe were a mile off the pace. 

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How things can change in two years, and yet one thing that hasn’t changed whatsoever is the massive role being at home plays in the outcome of the Ryder Cup. 

Luke Donald played a blinder in captaining his side to a 16.5 to 11.5 victory in Rome, while all of his big men stepped up to the plate. 

Zach Johnson, meanwhile, came across as a bit of a bumbling oaf, his wildcard picks largely failing and his foursomes pairings at times bewildering. 

And yet, the advantages that come from being at home simply can’t be overlooked, with rowdy crowds and the permission to set up the course as you please playing huge factors. 

Sunday’s result made it five home victories on the bounce, by an average of nearly seven points. You must go back to the 2012 ‘Miracle of Medinah’ for an away success, and even then, America led 10-4 late on the Saturday before Ian Poulter instigated a remarkable turnaround. 

Therefore, just as the 2021 predictions of US dominance for years to come have proved wide of the mark, so too should we think twice about suggesting the Europeans are going to sweep all before them at Bethpage Black in New York in 2025, even if a fired up Rory McIlroy declared they “would win” in the winners’ press conference on Sunday night. 

The celebrations appeared to go on long into the night after that press conference, before the majority of Donald’s team headed home for some rest and recovery. 

That said, a trio of Europe’s stars are back at work again this week, with Tommy Fleetwood – who came good on a 6/1 selection as top wildcard – Matt Fitzpatrick and Robert MacIntyre all in the field for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the east coast of Scotland. 

In terms of getting over a hangover, there are worse ideas than playing in this one, with the traditional pro-am format providing ample opportunities to socialise over the course of the week. 

Fleetwood has been a frequent visitor to this event – played over St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns before the leaders return the Old Course on Sunday – and finished second on the back of a brilliant Ryder Cup performance in 2018. 

He will go to post as a general 15/2 favourite and will be boosted by a superb showing in Italy, capped off by sealing the winning point on Sunday, although the price leaves little wriggle room. 

As a confirmed links specialist, he is of far more interest than 9/1 chance Fitzpatrick who has questioned his own seaside credentials and was very average in Italy bar a flying start alongside McIlroy in the Friday fourballs. 

MacIntyre does appeal most of the Ryder Cup trio at 33/1 generally, and the belief gained from picking up 2.5 points out of three at the top level will stand to him, although a heroic return to his homeland might prove a distraction. 

Therefore, the main selection is the man who defends the title this week – Ryan Fox. 

Tyrrell Hatton won this title back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, and the big-hitting Kiwi could easily emulate him just a few weeks after taking the biggest title of his career at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. 

Prior to that he was third in the Irish Open, and while he missed the cut in France following his Wentworth win, he did the same last year before taking this title. 

Fox is a man who can put a series of good results together, and he has the incentive of closing the gap at the top of the Race to Dubai rankings to get him going again as he sits third and will be keen to better last year’s runner-up finish behind McIlroy. 

With a decent 12th in the Scottish Open in July already in the books, it would be no surprise if he shines again in Scotland and is the pick of the market leaders at 18/1 with Betway. 

Former Ryder Cup star Thorbjorn Olesen could be a factor in Scotland this week Picture by PA
Former Ryder Cup star Thorbjorn Olesen could be a factor in Scotland this week Picture by PA Former Ryder Cup star Thorbjorn Olesen could be a factor in Scotland this week Picture by PA

Elsewhere, Thorbjorn Olesen was part of the victorious Ryder Cup side in 2018, and he could be a factor this week at 35/1 with Sky Bet. 

The Dane won the Dunhill in 2014, having also finished second two years earlier, so his liking for an event that isn’t to everyone’s taste is not in doubt, while he has been playing well of late without any massive reward. 

His long game was excellent on his way to 10th in the Open de France two weekends ago and he could go well in this field. 

While MacIntyre can’t be dismissed, I’d just about prefer to stick with his fellow Scot Connor Syme at 50/1 with Ladbrokes. 

We were on Syme at 125/1 at Wentworth when he just missed out on place money in 10th, having been second going into the final round, and that was the latest in a line of fine performances recently, with top-10s also recorded in the Irish Open, European Masters and ISPS Handa event at Galgorm. 

Returning to home soil, it would be no surprise to see him improve on his 10th in this last year and get into the mix. 

Finally, I’ll take a chance that Callum Shinkwin can build on his tie for seventh in lofty company at Wentworth.

The Englishman was second to Fox here last term and has previous Scottish links form in the book, losing a play-off to Rafa Cabrera-Bello in the 2017 Scottish Open.

He has a decent chance of running into a place at 70/1 (Ladbrokes), while a third DP World Tour title is not out of the question on turf he is familiar with.

And as the Ryder Cup again showed, there’s a lot to be said about feeling right at home. 

Alfred Dunhill Links Championship Selections


Ryan Fox, e/w, 18/1 (Betway)

Thorbjorn Olesen, e/w, 35/1 (Sky Bet)

Connor Syme, e/w, 50/1 (Ladbrokes)

Callum Shinkwin, e/w, 70/1 (Ladbrokes)