Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson will this year renew rivalries in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links, where the popular American took the title in 2013 before lifting the Claret Jug the following week.
Five-time Major Champion Mickelson, World Number Five Stenson and former winner Graeme McDowell are among the star names so far confirmed for the 34th edition of Scotland’s national Open, which returns to the stunning Inverness venue from July 7-10, 2016.
Stenson led by two shots going into the final round at Castle Stuart three years ago, only to be pipped to the prize by Mickelson, who produced a trademark flop shot in the play-off with Branden Grace to secure his first victory in a regular European Tour event.
Mickelson cited that win as a key component in his subsequent triumph at Muirfield, and the 45 year old is hopeful of achieving another Scottish double when he warms up for The Open Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club with his seventh straight appearance – and 14th overall – in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Mickelson said: “I’m always excited about returning to Scotland, and particularly to Castle Stuart. I believe winning there in 2013 was key to my success the next week at The Open Championship.
“Beyond that, the nation is the home of golf and I really appreciate the fans’ golfing knowledge and their respect for the game. It’s always one of the highlights of my year when I compete in Scotland.”
Stenson followed his third place at Castle Stuart with a runner-up finish behind Mickelson at Muirfield, and whilst he was understandably disappointed to have missed out on both titles, his impressive performances heralded a remarkable run of form which ultimately culminated in the Swede winning both The Race to Dubai and the FedExCup on the US PGA Tour.
This year will mark Stenson’s first appearance in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open since his near-miss in 2013, and the 39 year old – currently leading The Race to Dubai – is hopeful of a different outcome on the Moray Firth this time.
He said: “It didn’t quite work out for me on the final day in 2013, I had a great chance but Phil recovered well from a bad start and deserved to win. And even though I didn’t quite manage to get the job done, it was still the start of a great run for me and maybe I used those near-misses at Castle Stuart and Muirfield as motivation.
“For me, playing the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is the perfect preparation for The Open. We’ll be expecting a tougher test at Troon the week after, but although Castle Stuart doesn’t beat you up as much as an Open Championship venue does, it’s still great to get into the mind-set of playing links golf.
“So I’m looking forward to going back, and hopefully I can get the better of Phil this time. He proved that winning the Scottish Open was the recipe for success in The Open in 2013, so I’ll be going all out for the win in July.”
McDowell, Stenson’s team-mate from The 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, has already tasted success in the Scottish Open, taking the title in 2008 at Loch Lomond Golf Club.
The 2010 US Open Champion missed the tournament between 2012 and 2014, but a return to Gullane Golf Club last year rekindled his love affair with the £3.25 million event.
McDowell said: “I’m looking forward to making my return to Castle Stuart this year. It’s going to be a great little period for me, with the French Open, the Scottish Open and hopefully The Open, so I’m very excited about that little stretch over the summer.
“I always love playing in Scotland, and after missing the Scottish Open for a few years it was great to go back there last year. I played very well for the first two days at Gullane, and hopefully I can keep that sort of form going over all four rounds at Castle Stuart.”
Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, said: “I’m absolutely delighted the 2013 champion Phil Mickelson, World Number Five Henrik Stenson and Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell will be playing in this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
“With a condensed summer golfing calendar, having these star names playing is testament to the strength of this tournament and its enviable position of being contested the week before The Open Championship.
“Aberdeen is a company that continues to grow its presence around the world, so we are pleased that American golf fans will have the opportunity to see the likes of Phil take on the magnificent Castle Stuart once more through our continued live coverage on the Golf Channel and NBC.”
James Hepburn, Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, said: “I’m delighted that Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell – three giants of world golf – will be competing at this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. This tournament is one of the highlights of Scotland’s sporting calendar, and it’s already looking like we’ll see another strong field returning to Castle Stuart.
“Scotland is the best place in the world to watch and play golf, and the Scottish Government is pleased to be able to continue to sponsor the Scottish Open, which helps to raise the profile of Scottish golf worldwide and also contributes to our wider economy.”