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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Inspired Martin Kaymer can prove serious Dunhill dangerman

Ross Fisher should be in contention

Martin Kaymer plays from a bunker at the European Open
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The Ryder Cup did not go well for the United States, including three-time Major champion Brooks Koepka, but the humbled world number three is clear favourite for the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

Koepka left France in low spirits after a troubled time representing the Stars and Stripes. He hit a spectator with a wild drive on the opening day, smashing her eye socket. She has lost sight in her right eye and is taking legal action.

Then reports emerged on Sunday of Koepka almost coming to blows with Dustin Johnson in a 'nasty' altercation at Le Golf National in the aftermath of the States' emphatic defeat. Koepka is probably regretting putting the Dunhill – in cold, breezy Fife – on his schedule, and is easy to oppose at a short price.

Tony Finau is the other American Ryder Cup loser lining up for the Dunhill, while Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton are the two victorious Europeans testing their powers of recovery after the Paris party.

Palmer's top tip
Martin Kaymer 66-1
Tommy Fleetwood has a fantastic, although winless, record in the Dunhill Links Championship, and the popular Southport lad will have plenty of backers in Scotland after his magnificent Ryder Cup debut. Four points from five matches was a terrific effort.

Mental fatigue is the handicap for Fleetwood, though, who was thrashed 6&4 by Tony Finau in the Sunday singles before leading the European celebrations. Has Fleetwood got enough energy, focus and hunger for six-hour rounds alongside amateurs in chilly, windy conditions? This is after the Lord Mayor's show with bells on.

Of the two European Ryder Cup winners preference would be for Tyrrell Hatton. Hatton at least has the incentive of a Dunhill hat-trick to motivate him. He has been incredible in the previous two editions of this event – a combined total of 47 under par – and he played only three matches in Paris so should have a little left in the tank for his title defence.

Hatton is well worth considering, but Patrick Reed comfortably dismissed him in the Sunday singles, and there is not quite enough juice in the price of the Dunhill champ to warrant support.

The only player who has gone straight from a Ryder Cup to win the Dunhill Links the following week is Martin Kaymer, and it is the 2010 champion who can be fancied to upset the market leaders in Scotland and get back to winning ways.

Kaymer should take great inspiration from watching Europe's heroics last week and the joy that followed. The former world number one knows that at his best he is one of the first names on the European team sheet, and the 33-year-old will be determined to rediscover form and regain his place in the line-up.

Kaymer has played in three Ryder Cups, ending up on the triumphant side each time, holing the winning putt to seal the Miracle of Medinah in 2012.

There is no better place for Kaymer to start his climb back into the elite than St Andrews, his favourite course, and the difficult conditions forecast play into the hands of the German grinder.

There was much encouragement for Kaymer fans to take from his last outing – the KLM Open in the middle of last month – where nobody in the field dropped fewer shots (six). Four under-par rounds, including a closing 68, meant a share of 15th place and something to build on for the 11-time European Tour champion. The swing seems in order and the slower greens of Fife will take pressure off his putting.

Kaymer, Dunhill playoff loser in 2008 and winner of the 2009 Scottish Open, has finished seventh and 12th in his two Opens at St Andrews. He is dual Major champion, adept in a breeze, and a new caddie may provide added spark. Bagman switches often result in improved performances and an amicable split with Craig Connelly means Kaymer will get some fresh guidance.

Tiger Woods graphically illustrated in the Tour Championship the week before last that class is permanent. Kaymer, a colossus of the sport who has suffered a few lean years, can offer further evidence. He was beaten by only a shot in the BMW International Open in Germany at the end of June and can flourish at another happy hunting ground over the next four days.

Next best
Ross Fisher 45-1
Another former Ryder Cup star who can take positives from Paris is Ross Fisher.

Players who have won the Cup before – Fisher was on the victorious 2010 side – know the buzz of Ryder success and feel a cheerful attachment to the team. Somebody like Shane Lowry, who has never qualified, must look on with an air of dejection, while the likes of Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan, Cup losers in 2016, must be wondering whether they will ever get another crack at glory.

Fisher, who teamed up well with Padraig Harrington to win two points for Europe at Celtic Manor, is a five-time European Tour champion at the age of 37. One of those came in England, one came in Ireland, and he has come close in Scotland too, mainly in the Dunhill Links. He lost in a three-man playoff in 2008 and has been runner-up again the last two years, beaten only by Hatton's heroics.

Fisher fired a course-record 61 at St Andrews last year, his powerful, low draw works well in the wind, and the slower greens suit him. The Ascot man has finished runner-up seven times since his last victory and this tournament represents a fantastic opportunity for some overdue silverware.

Other selections
Paul Dunne 80-1
Ryan Fox 70-1
Oliver Fisher 150-1
Ashley Chesters 150-1
Paul Dunne is a links natural who led the 2015 Open at St Andrews after three rounds when still an amateur. This short-game master has also played well at St Andrews in the Dunhill Links, finishing 19th, 25th and seventh in three spins, and is a proven performer in a breeze.

Dunne has endured an unsuccessful three months, but his barren run has included two Majors, a WGC, and a couple of regulation events at unsuitable courses. Only the missed cut at the Scottish Open is indefensible, and that was only by a single shot. Expect the British Masters champion, Spanish Open runner-up to Jon Rahm in April, to bounce back to form.

Ryan Fox loves a links challenge – he has finished fourth and second in the last two Irish Opens, and fourth and sixth in the last two Scottish Opens – and the power-packed Kiwi looks the most dangerous maiden. He was a hugely unlucky playoff loser to Russell Knox in the Irish Open in July. His UK form extends to his Challenge Tour days – he was runner-up in the 2016 Scottish Hydro Challenge before winning the Northern Ireland Open.

Thirteen of the last 17 Dunhill winners have been British or Irish, and six of the last 11 have been English, which makes sense given their superior links experience and comfort in the typically chilly weather. To bolster Ross Fisher and Dunne, a pair of Englishmen complete the staking plan at big prices. Oliver Fisher and Ashley Chesters can enter the equation.

Fisher, who made European Tour history last time out by carding a round of 59 in the Portugal Masters, won the 2006 St Andrews Links Trophy and is well capable of carrying his form to Fife. He finished seventh in Portugal and was seventh in the Dunhill last year. Runner-up spots in the Madeira Islands Open and the Qatar Masters underline Fisher's comfort in a breeze.

Chesters finished 12th in the 2015 Open at St Andrews when still an amateur, then came through European Tour Q-School in 2016. The second half of this season has been encouraging, with seventh place in the Shot Clock Masters, 21st in the French Open, 14th in the Irish Open, ninth in Denmark and 16th in Portugal last time out, and the Dunhill tracks are right up his alley.

Others to note
Jason Scrivener
The Perth man can handle a breeze, has played well in his two most recent outings, and could enter the mix at a fancy price.

Tom Lewis
The Englishman won on the Challenge Tour by five shots a month ago, then on the European Tour in the Portugal Masters last time out. He was the 2011 St Andrews Links Trophy champion and finished third in the 2013 Dunhill.

Shane Lowry
The Irishman should enjoy the tougher conditions this year – he typically strikes his ball well before struggling on the greens – and he has two months of solid form behind him. Like Hatton, he is an obvious runner who the bookmakers are not offering at a value price.

Chris Wood
The links-lover has twice contended in the Open Championship and is a three-time European Tour runner-up this year.

Marcus Kinhult
The Swede won the Lytham Trophy by eight shots in 2015, so has always liked links golf, and fourth place in Portugal last time out hinted a European Tour breakthrough is close.

Matthew Southgate
The Carnoustie member has a fantastic links record on the European Tour and will see this as another golden chance of a maiden victory.

Staking plan
M Kaymer
1.5pts each-way 66-1 Betfred
R Fisher
1.5pts each-way 45-1 Betfred
P Dunne
1pt each-way 80-1 Coral
R Fox
1pt each-way 70-1 bet365
O Fisher
0.5pt each-way 150-1 Betfred
A Chesters
0.5pt each-way 150-1 188bet

The lowdown

Courses St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland

Prize money €4.26m (€676,133 to the winner)

Lengths - St Andrews 7,307 yards; Carnoustie 7,345 yards; Kingsbarns 7,227 yards

Par All 72 Field 168

Course records – 72 holes of Dunhill Links Championship 264 Tyrrell Hatton (2017) 18 holes – St Andrews 61 Ross Fisher (2017); Carnoustie 64 Colin Montgomerie (1995 Scottish Open), Peter O'Malley (2007), Paul Lawrie (2007), Richard Green (2007 Open), Steve Stricker (2007 Open), Shane Lowry (2013), Alex Noren (2016); Kingsbarns 60 Branden Grace (2012), Peter Uihlein (2013)

Course winners taking part - St Andrews Padraig Harrington (twice), Stephen Gallacher, Robert Karlsson, Simon Dyson, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Michael Hoey, Branden Grace, David Howell, Oliver Wilson, Tyrrell Hatton (twice).

When to bet By 9am Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 1pm Thursday

Course overview This Pro-Am features two rounds at St Andrews and one each at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

The competitors will play a round at each of the three links before a cut is made and the leaders will then battle it out on Sunday at St Andrews. The host course, with its generous fairways and a few par fours which can be reached off the tee, is easy if the breeze is light.

But, as Rory McIlroy found to his cost in the 2010 Open, St Andrews can be much more of a devil in strong winds. The par-four 17th Road Hole is the toughest assignment on the track.

Carnoustie is the most difficult course – the long, demanding monster taking no prisoners in the 1999, 2007 and 2018 Opens.

Carnoustie's closing four holes (three long par-fours and a 247-yard par-three) have destroyed many scorecards. Kingsbarns is the shortest venue and another opportunity for low scoring.

It is the only one with four par-fives, so big-hitters have an opportunity to make hay there. All three tracks are set up much easier than usual to give the amateurs a chance, so scoring is considerably lower in the Links Championship than the Open.

Zach Johnson won the latest Open at St Andrews in 2015. Francesco Molinari won the Open at Carnoustie in July.

Story of last year Tyrrell Hatton broke his own 72-hole Dunhill scoring record, the little Englishman cruising to a successful title defence by a three-shot margin, posting a 24-under-par score

Weather forecast Clear but cold for the most part, with strong breezes on Thursday and Sunday, and less wind on Friday and Saturday

Type of player suited to challenge Those with banks of links experience from the British and Irish amateur scene, the Open and this event (which was first staged in 2001) will be best prepared.

Links masters possess a range of shots to handle the quirky terrain and the forecast sea breezes. A sound temperament is required to deal with the amateur element of this event, with rounds taking an age to complete.

A hot putter is typically required to keep pace with the lead in a low-scoring shootout.

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There is no better place for Kaymer to start his climb back into the elite than St Andrews, his favourite course
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