Does Scottish Open form serve as a predictor for The British Open?

The Scottish Open in recent years has become an essential part of preparation for many of the world’s top players as it provides them the opportunity to play competitively on a links golf course the week before the British Open. Furthermore, it offers the last chance for European Tour players to earn a spot in The Open Championship, making it one of the first tournaments to be scheduled into a player’s season.

The Scottish Open was played at the world famous Loch Lomond Golf Club from 2001 until 2010. However, many of the leading players opted to play and practice elsewhere in order to better prepare themselves for the type of shots a links course demands. Due to financial trouble, the event moved from Loch Lomond to Castle Stuart Golf Links in 2011 and has been played at a selection of links venues throughout Scotland since.

Famously, Phil Mickleson won the 2013 Scottish Open and seven days later went on to lift the Claret Jug at Muirfield Golf Links. This happened to be only Mickleson’s first and second win on British soil in his long and lustres career. Phil expressed afterwards the amount of confidence the win gave him heading into The Open and it further justified to the world of golf the importance of preparation for links golf, making this event one of the strongest fields on The European Tour. Therefore, does Scottish Open form serve as a predictor for the British Open?

The world’s current top 30 player’s average finishing position in The Scottish and British Open (The Open Championship) from 2011 to 2015 was assessed to see whether form is a factor.

Over the past five years, only 2011 saw a higher average finishing position in the British than the Scottish Open. Overall, players finished on average 40th in The Scottish compared 48th in The British.

However, during the same time period, the world’s current top 10 players have finished higher up the leader-board each year in The Scottish Open with an overall average of 30th position compared to 45th in The British.

Between 2011 and 2013, the average finish position for The Scottish Open was very low; conversely the British Open average was relatively high, demonstrating in these events that good form during the Scottish did not serve as a predictor for the British. On the other hand, during 2014 the results turned, with a low finish in the British compared to the previous week’s high finish. In contrast this is more to do with a very high average finish of 78th in the Scottish. Nevertheless, in 2015 the average result was again lower in the British (26th) than the Scottish even with a lower 33rd average, suggesting form was a forecaster during this year.

Further up the world rankings, form for each event and year becomes more ‘streaky’. 2011 showed a big improvement during The British (40th) but this was mainly due to the poor performance throughout The Scottish (71st). 2012 was the reverse, with an average 52nd in The Scottish compared to 92nd in The British - though it could be suggested form did serve as an indicator with both averages being high. However, 2014 and 2015 saw low averages in The Scottish - both within the top 30 - yet this was not backed up the following week with notably higher average finish positions.

Top 10 Players - the lowest average in The Scottish (9th) was also the lowest average in The British (30th). Although this was a difference of -21, it does suggest that good play the week before the third major of the season for the world’s top 10 does have an impact on form. Notably, The Scottish average is inside the top 40 for each year, yet with many of the world’s top 10 having made their way there over recent seasons, this does suggest their ability to deal with the biggest stage has increased rather than their skill level on links golf courses.

Top 11 – 20 Players – the two significant differences of -41 and -42 during 2011 and 2013 respectively demonstrate how difficult it is to play in contention for two consecutive weeks. For each of these years, the average finish in The Scottish was 12th compared to outside the top 50 during The British. This may coincide further with these players struggling to cope with the pressure of a major championship when their form is good and as a result, greater expectation is placed on them. Again, 2014 showed an increase of 28 places due to a very weak showing in The Scottish rather than exceptional play during The British.

Top 21 – 30 Players – 2011 saw a positive increase of 31 places, yet again though this was mainly due to a poor showing in The Scottish of 71st. Significantly, during 2015 where The Scottish average was within the top 30 (29th), The British average decreased by 40 places to 69th. This further demonstrates that players further down the world rankings are their due to consistency and struggle to back-up form during the biggest events.

On average, the three categories all had a negative difference between The Scottish and British Open; nonetheless it is evident that form during The Scottish Open for players ranked in the world’s top 20 does result in a lower finish for The Open Championship. Whereas player’s ranked outside the top 20 (with it being predicted for the remaining rankings) form during The Scottish on average is significantly higher, resulting in an inferior placing during The British.

Those based in America who only play on the PGA Tour and who have never played in The Scottish Open, on average finish lower in The British than those who are based in Europe. However, with many of the world’s best players being of American nationality and members of the PGA Tour, it is to be projected a lower average due to higher quality tournament fields and world ranking points available on a weekly basis. Johnson, Speith and Watson all fit into this category but will be firm favourites come Open Championship week regardless of any participation in The Scottish.

Other than 2012, the average finish for both tournaments is similar with no stand out differences. This correlates with the above statistic where many European Tours players in the field will be down in the world rankings and playing to either gain qualification for The British or to simply earn more Race to Dubai points. This was seen with Chris Wood and Rafa Cabrero Bello who did not qualify for The Open but did play The Scottish during 2011.

Remarkably over the last three years there has been little difference between average finish position for players who did and did not play the Scottish Open. Nevertheless, both 2011 and 2012 saw considerably higher averages for those who did tee it up in The Scottish compared to those who did not, suggesting links form leading into The Open is of little consequence.

Furthermore, Darren Clarke and Ernie Els were victorious during these years and both had relatively weak finishes in The Scottish Open the week before. Taking into account their age and stages of their careers, for many these two were classed as surprise winners which may correlate with the higher average during these two years for European Tour players. Many of the current world’s top ranked Europeans were either still finding their feet on tour or even had no tour status - increasing the averages.

Is Form a Predictor?

Overall, playing well during The Scottish Open does not serve as a predictor for success for The Open Championship.

Barring Zach Johnson who won last year’s Open Championship via a play-off during a Monday finish due to torrential rain, each player who has gone on to be victorious has played in the Scottish Open the week before. Therefore, players ranked inside the world’s top 20 and who will be genuine favourites during The Open Championship and who are participating in The Scottish - regardless of finishing position – this could be the difference between being champion and a top five finish, as it allows them to visualise the shots required that only a links golf course does.

Whereas for players ranked outside the world’s top 20, The Scottish serves as a better predictor for form during The Open. Being in contention the week before a major on a similar style golf course may help them deal with the pressure and make clearer decisions on the type of shot required. This was evident when both Clarke and Els were victorious. Although both past their primes, both players have been at the very top of the game during their careers and knew how to win on the big stage where playing a links before their victories may just have been the deciding factor in their wins regardless of their Scottish Open performances.

The usual names are always hard to look past, however a top ranked player teeing it up in The Scottish could be one to watch during The Open Championship regardless of their showing this week. Additionally, someone ranked lower down who plays well during The Scottish could be a factor. Whereas a big name in the game such as Mickleson or Harrington, who know how to win on a links and the biggest stage, could get the job done when back on familiar ground.