It's back to the Race To Dubai
By Neville Leck Last updated: 3rd October 2012
The dazzling 39th Ryder Cup has come and gone and this week European golf heads up to Scotland to resume its intriguing Race to Dubai battle.
Not all of Europe's Ryder Cup stars will be in action there, but with the 'Miracle of Medinah' still fresh in the memory, the three of them who will be, Martin Kaymer, Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson, can expect something of a heroes welcome when they tee off on Thursday in this week's Alfred Dunhill Links championship at either St Andrews, Carnoustie or Kingsbarn, the three courses over which this celebrated pro-am tournament will once more be staged.
Europe's victorious captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, and his four back-room generals, Thomas Björn, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Paul McGinley, are also in this week's stellar pro-am field and they too can expect a rousing reception
The professionals, who will include among their ranks Dustin Johnson, one of the USA's most successful golfers in last week's Ryder Cup, a strong South African contingent that includes the current Open champion, Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, The Open winner at St Andrews in 2010, and the 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel as well as four other Major winners in Ireland's Padraig Harrington, Americans Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel and Kiwi Michael Campbell, will play a round at each of the three course before returning to the famed Home of Golf's legendary Old Course for Sunday's final round.
In addition to fighting it out for this week's title and Race to Dubai points, the professionals will also each partner a golf-playing celebrity in a separate pro-am competition.
Kaymer, the US PGA winner two years ago and briefly the World No 1, had struggled to regain his best form this year following a ski-holiday accident, but came good in Sunday's singles when he nailed a vital six-foot putt on the last hole of the second last match in Sunday's thrill-a-minute singles to beat America's Steve Stricker and ensure that Europe would retain the Ryder Cup for the fourth time in a row after starting Sunday's singles trailing 10-6.
And it begged the question; would this glorious 14½-13½ fightback triumph which saw him punch the air in unrestrained jubilation on Sunday, put the most talented German golfer since Bernard Langer back on the winning track in the same way that sharing Europe's Ryder Cup triumph at Celtic Manor in 2010 had helped him generate the momentum to win that year's Dunhill Links Championship just a week later?
And while on the subject of momentum; someone who has had it for most of the season is the resurgent Lawrie, the last Scot to win The Open (1999), the first to win the Dunhill Links title (2001) and Europe's biggest singles winner at Medinah on Sunday where he whipped this year's FedEx Cup champion, Brandt Snedeker, 5 and 3.
In his present mood 43-year-old Lawrie might well be one of the biggest threats to the defending champion, Michael Hoey, who will be gunning to retain a title he won so impressively last year when he held off the likes of England's then World No 1, Luke Donald, and fellow Northern Irish stars Rory McIlroy, the current World No 1 and, at 23, already a two-time major champion, and Graeme McDowell, who like McIlroy, owned a US Open title at the time.
There is always the chance, of course, that jet-lag and post-Medinah emotions of one kind or another could, to some extent, hamstring the Ryder Cup stars in the field, but big-hitting Johnson, like Lawrie, is so on top of his game right now that it might not matter.
Meanwhile, looking back on the pressure imposed on him last year by McIlroy and Co, we saw Hoey brush it aside and go on to close with a winning 68 at St Andrews that has left him hoping that the uplifting experience will make him a major contender again this week.
"I've never defended a title before, for one reason or another, so it'll be fantastic," europeantour.com quoted Hoey as saying this week.
"I love links golf and with all the celebrities playing it's a very special week.
"Last year I played dream golf. I had three rounds of 66, then playing with Graeme; and having Rory just ahead; to finish it off the way I did with three birdies in the last four holes was the stuff of dreams. I had a few friends over watching and it was a very special day.
"Obviously winning in Morocco (Trophée Hassan II) earlier this year was great as well, but the quality of the field in Scotland - it included five of the world's top six - made it all the more satisfying. To beat Luke Donald and all those guys gave me a lot of confidence.
"I can't wait to get back there. It's hard to pick out a favourite from one of the three courses; Kingsbarns is unbelievably beautiful, Carnoustie is a legendary course, and the Old Course is just the Old Course, so I'll say no more."
The European Tour has announced that entrance to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship will be free at all three courses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
A ticket price of £15 (concessionary £10) will be charged for the final day's play over the Old Course on Sunday, October 7. Entry for under 16s and students is free.
Tickets are available through the ticket hotline on 0844 581 4922 or at the entrance gates.
A look at some of the impressive golf courses on offer in the south of Wales. Go to Gallery
Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, Mark Boucher and company in action at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Go to Gallery
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