Defending Champion Padraig Harrington returns to the scenes of two of his greatest triumphs this week – Carnoustie and St Andrews – with an unprecedented third Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on his mind.
Harrington reached the pinnacle of the game with his stunning play-off victory in The Open Championship at Carnoustie in July having lifted the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship trophy at St Andrews ten months earlier. Now, for the first time as reigning Open Champion, Harrington is back in Scotland seeking to retain his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title over three of the world’s greatest links courses in the Old Course at St Andrews, Canroustie and Kingsbarns.
Twelve months ago Harrington used a second Alfred Dunhill Links title – his first success came in 2002 – as a stepping stone on the way to winning his first European Tour Order of Merit crown. Along the way, Harrington and his amateur partner, J P McManus, used their Scottish sojourn to plunder the Pro-Am Team element of the event for a second time.
It has been an emotional ride since Carnoustie in July for World Number Seven as Harrington, who became the first Irishman in 25 years to win the Irish Open then took a gigantic leap forward by adding The 137th Open to his already impressive CV.
Harrington, the only player to win the event twice, will face a formidable field at St Andrews, including former winners, the Scottish trio of Paul Lawrie (2001) Stephen Gallacher (2004) Colin Montgomerie (2005) and Lee Westwood of England, who triumphed in 2003 and most recently captured The Quinn Direct British Masters.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship traditionally boasts one of the strongest international fields on The European Tour International Schedule, and South Africa’s popular World Number Five Ernie Els will return again, hoping to go one better than in 2001 and 2003 when he was edged out by Lawrie and Westwood respectively.
A total of 16 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking will be tackling those three wonderful venues with Els, Harrington, Montgomerie and Westwood being joined in the line-up by Justin Rose (13th), Luke Donald (15th), Henrik Stenson (16th), Trevor Immelman (18th), Niclas Fasth (21st), Paul Casey (22nd), Ian Poulter (27th), Richard Green (33rd), Richard Sterne (39th), Anders Hansen (46th ), Bradley Dredge (49th) and Robert Karlsson (50th ).
Last year, Harrington’s victory, worth €630,566 (£427,441), ensured that the race to the Order of Merit title would go right down to the wire. So it proved at Valderrama, with Harrington just edging out Casey, long-time leader David Howell and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, who are all in this week’s field again.
Harrington currently leads the race to capture the Harry Vardon Trophy this time around but the contest could become even more intriguing if second placed Rose, Els (currently third), Stenson (fourth) or Fasth (fifth) can make inroads into the Irishman’s advantage.
Europe's 2008 Ryder Cup Captain and six time Major winner Nick Faldo, who claimed his second Open Championship at St Andrews in 1990, will return to the scene of that historic triumph, fresh from a victory in his first experience of captaincy in the Seve Trophy in Ireland.
In the case of Poulter, the honeymoon with Scotland won’t be so much over as just beginning! The English Ryder Cup player married his long-time partner, Katie, last weekend and the couple start their life of matrimony hoping for an eighth European Tour title to take home with them.
The championship, conceived as a celebration of links golf and first played in 2001, will be played over three of the world’s best known and respected links courses – the Old Course at St Andrews, the Championship Course at Carnoustie – which hosted The Open Championship in July - and the much lauded Kingsbarns Golf Links.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship has a unique format. With a prize fund of US $5 million, it incorporates two separate competitions - an individual professional tournament for the world's leading golfers, and a team event in which they are paired with some of the most celebrated amateur golfers.
Among the amateurs playing this week from the world of entertainment are Hugh Grant, the popular British actor, Ray Romano, star of Everybody Loves Raymond, George Lopez, US sitcom writer and actor, Don Felder of the Eagles, co-writer of Hotel California, John O’Hurley, who played J. Peterman in Seinfeld, Maury Povich, presenter of the US talk show Maury, and Spanish actress and model Ines Sastre.
Also playing will be Dennis Hopper, Samuel L. Jackson, Ronan Keating, Huey Lewis, Kyle MacLachlan and Tico Torres, along with three of Britain’s greatest sporting knights – Sir Ian Botham, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Steve Redgrave. They lead a strong locker room of sports stars including football legends Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Matthew Le Tissier, Wimbledon tennis hero Boris Becker, former cricket captains Michael Vaughn of England and Steve Waugh of Australia, South African rugby giant Morné du Plessis, American Football’s renowned running back Marcus Allen and Austria’s Olympic gold medal skier Franz Klammer.