Scottish Open preview: Mickelson leads formidable field at Castle Stuart

Phil Mickelson 2012
Phil Mickelson is the highest ranked player at Castle Stuart this week.SNS Group

Many of the world's best golfers will be in competition at the magnificent Castle Stuart Links just outside Inverness this week for the Aberdeen Asset Scottish Open, the third time the venue has hosted the event.

Among the big names will be four-time Major winner Phil Mickelson and last year's Open champion Ernie Els who are both regulars at Scotland's marquee golf event which was formerly held on the banks of Loch Lomond before being relocated to the links course on the Moray Firth in 2011.

Popular major winners Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington will also use this weekend's tournament as a warm-up for next weekend's Open championship at Muirfield, which Clarke won two years ago at Royal St George's after competing at the Scottish flagship event the previous weekend.

Familiar Spanish duo Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal will join in-form Paul Casey in an impressive field which includes six major champions and 21 Ryder Cup players including 2014 captain Paul McGinley, who will no doubt be given a warm welcome by the Scottish galleries ahead of next year's match.

The tournament has however, endured it's fair share of controversies in recent times, notably in it's maiden year at Castle Stuart where heavy rain caused some of the course to erode over the weekend reducing the duration and standard of the competition. In the end Luke Donald emerged victorious after only 54 holes.

2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell has also recently been openly critical about the scenic links course stating that there was more of a "buzz" at the previous venue on the banks of Loch Lomond where the event was staged for 14 years and was well attended.

Whether that is true remains to be seen although, curiously, tournament sponsors Aberdeen Asset Management are thought to be keen to rotate the tournament every few years and are known to favour a location in the North East of Scotland such as Royal Aberdeen perhaps as early as 2014, and so golf fans in Inverness-shire will be especially keen to savour the unique atmosphere of premium tournament golf this weekend.

American favourite Mickelson, currently world number six, will be the highest-ranked player in the field, although one notable absentee will be former winner Colin Montgomerie who had already committed to a seniors event elsewhere and recently missed out on Open qualification.

There will, however, be no less than 19 home-grown players including 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie and former Bearsden Academy pupil and PGA tour star Martin Laird for the home fans to cheer on over the weekend as the impressive field try to get their links game into order ahead of the third major of 2013 next weekend at Muirfield.

Fellow Scot Marc Warren came agonisingly close to glory in last year's event but after dropping four shots in the final three holes, the title slipped from his grasp and he will be out to go one better this weekend along with compatriots Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay.

Among the facilities on offer for the expected 60,000 spectators to enjoy at Castle Stuart is a state-of-the-art tented village based on Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 concept, with all stalls and exhibits under one roof as opposed to being pitched side by side and open to the elements.

Championship director Peter Adams explained "It'll be undercover, which is something that's not really been done before, but it's not due to a weather fear", he confirmed. "We just think it will work really well".

Adams and his team won't be too concerned about the elements this weekend. In a marked difference to the downpours of 2011, temperatures are expected to reach the mid 20's on Friday afternoon and remain dry for the duration of the tournament which will only help to highlight the natural beauty of one of Scotland's best links courses which has been somewhat plagued by unfortunate circumstances in its short time hosting the event.

Among the stand-out holes are the picturesque 191-yard Par 3 4th hole with the distinctive castle looming in the background, and the monstrous Par 5 finishing hole which measures almost 600 yards from the Championship tees. A hidden fairway provides the most prudent route to the biggest green at Castle Stuart, and this should make for yet another enthralling finish to the 2013 Scottish Open.

Last year it was India's Jeev Mikha Singh who triumphed after beating Italy's Francesco Molinari in a playoff, and with only two British winners in the last 13 years, it remains to be seen whether or not the passionate crowds at Castle Stuart will say farewell to the tournament with a popular home-grown champion.

Regardless of which player raises the trophy aloft on Sunday however, one of Scotland's most idyllic golfing destinations will have no doubt won even more admirers.

You can follow Finlay on Twitter @FinMorrison

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