It might be another 13 months until The Ryder Cup heads to Scotland, but the spotlight will be shining on next year’s host venue this week when one of Europe’s Medinah Maestros - and a home-grown hero - defends the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
Scot Paul Lawrie claimed his eighth European Tour title at last year’s tournament, carding four rounds in the 60s to finish four shots clear of Australian Brett Rumford.
Lawrie went on the play a central role in Europe’s memorable Ryder Cup victory in Chicago just five weeks later, and he will be hoping for another inspiring performance at the host venue for the 2014 contest.
This week marks the 15th edition of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and the Scottish galleries will be hoping for another home winner, with Lawrie and Marc Warren (2007) the only Scots to have triumphed so far.
Warren will be looking to contend once again after recording his best finish in a Major Championship two weeks ago, a share of 12th place in the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Scott Jamieson and Stephen Gallacher, winners already on The 2013 Race to Dubai in South Africa and Dubai respectively, are also part of the strong home challenge, Gallacher having finished tied sixth last year along with compatriot Richie Ramsay, who is also part of the field.
With preparations for The Ryder Cup set to be in full swing this time next year, The Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles will not feature on The 2014 European Tour International Schedule, returning to The Race to Dubai for 2015.
So, for some of Europe’s Ryder Cup hopefuls, this week presents an ideal opportunity to not only capture the prestigious title, but also test themselves over the Jack Nicklaus-designed Centenary course which will provide the backdrop for next year’s matches.
One such player is Francesco Molinari, who alongside Lawrie was part of José María Olazábal’s victorious European Team at Medinah.
The Italian has a strong record at Gleneagles, finishing in the top ten four times in seven appearances, including tied sixth last year and third in 2010, when his brother Edoardo won the title before earning an Captain’s pick to join Francesco in The Ryder Cup Team at The Celtic Manor Resort.
Molinari was a top ten finisher in his last appearance on Scottish soil in The Open Championship last month, where he tied for ninth place.
Meanwhile, Denmark’s Thomas Björn, twice a runner up in 2013, returns to the course where he prevailed in a five-man play-off to win the title in 2011, one of three victories he recorded that year.