History was made last week as Celine Boutier cruised home in the Evian Championship to become the first Frenchwoman to win her home major title.
Boutier’s impressively emphatic victory kicked off with a 5-under 66 on Thursday to sit 2nd after round one. She then took the lead at the end of the second day and built her advantage up to three strokes entering the final round.
Her 3-under 68 to close out the event on Sunday gave little in the way of hope to her nearest challengers as she recorded her first major success in style. Firing -14 to finish a remarkable six shots in front of runner-up, Brooke Henderson.
The 2023 major story is almost at its conclusion, with the Women’s Open to come next week. Though first we’re off to Scotland for the Women’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links this week.
The Women’s Scottish Open first appeared on the LET (Ladies European Tour) schedule from 1986-88 and then again from 1994-95. Following a twelve-year absence the event returned in 2007 and with the exception of 2009 it has taken place every year since; joining forces with the LPGA in 2017 to become a more lucrative co-sanctioned event.
Catriona Matthew is the only player to have won this event twice in its history, in 2011 and 2013. Other more notable players to have lifted the trophy include Dame Laura Davies (1994), Ariya Jutanugarn (2018) and Stacy Lewis (2020).
This week’s defending champion is Japan’s Ayaka Furue, who become the first Japanese winner of the event last year and did so with a record -21 winning score for a first LPGA-sanctioned victory in her rookie season.
The tournament has taken place at various courses over the years, with the Kyle Phillips designed Dundonald Links returning as host last year after previously hosting from 2015-2017. It has also hosted the men’s version of this event previously, in 2017.
Situated on Scotland’s west coast, Dundonald Links is every bit an exposed, modern links course, with undulating fairways that are wide and framed by dense mounds of thick fescue. As you’d expect, they are protected by pot bunkers that are strategically placed close to/in most landing areas and gorse bushes are positioned around the course, leading to instant penalties for most who should find them.
The raised greens are full of severe slopes and undulations, with run-offs and false fronts leading to swales and hollows or some of the deep bunkering that often protects the front of the putting surfaces, as well as layup areas should you fail to reach the green in two.
A burn that runs throughout the course is in-play on a number of holes, including on the risk/reward closing par 5. As it protects the front of the angled, narrow putting surface.
As with most links/links-like courses, the difficulty is often dependent on conditions. When Dundonald first hosted this event in 2015, the event was solely sanctioned by the LET and played over 54 holes, though Rebecca Artis’ winning score of -6 still pointed to a challenging course. Although it was a little easier the following year when Isabelle Boineau won with a score of -11, it was still far from easy.
When the event joined forces with the LPGA in 2017 it increased to 72 holes and played very difficult. As Korea’s Mi-hyang Lee won the event with a score of -6. However, with receptive conditions last year and little in the way of severe wind, Ayaka Furue was able to produce that record -21 winning score.
Conditions look a mixed bag this week; rain should make it receptive but wind is set to blow on each day. Which should at least make the course more demanding than last year’s renewal.
Par 5 Scoring
We only have one year of tournament stats to go off but they at least prove conclusive in what is needed to perform around here. Which is quality into and on these large and undulating greens.
When winning last year, Ayaka Furue ranked as the best player in the field on the greens, 10th in greens-in-regulation and 20th in approach. She was followed by Celine Boutier in 2nd, who ranked 2nd on the greens and 10th in GIR.
More of the same was on offer from Hyo Joo Kim and Cheyenne Knight in joint-3rd. Kim excelled most in approach, ranking 4th and also ranked 10th in GIR and 16th in putting; meanwhile Knight ranked 8th in approach, 12th in putting and 21st in GIR.
Each of that top 4 at least scrambled solidly too. I expect that to be a little more important this year with some strong winds over the course of the week inevitably leading to more greens being missed.
Finally, whether conditions allow birdies to be either plentiful or harder to come by, the par 5s will offer up the clearest opportunities. It will therefore prove important to pick up as many shots as possible on these holes.
As always, our first port of call when looking for form-lines on links courses is to look to other events where such courses are used. This means any previous versions of this event played away from Dundonald Links, with most taking place at links venues, whilst we can also look towards form in the Women’s Open when renewals have been played on links courses.
Obviously, those who ply their trade on the LPGA may have little or no experience of links golf, so we need to look for courses which can match up and comfortably the best comp for me here comes with the Shoprite LPGA Classic at Seaview Golf Club’s Bay Course.
Most of this course is exposed and played on flat yet undulating ground. With holes framed by mounds and bunkers, it has somewhat of a linksy feel. Last year’s Women’s Open winner, Ashleigh Buhai won there earlier this year, following in the footsteps of other Women’s Open winners such as Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist and In-Kyung Kim. Whilst 2021 Shoprite winner, Celine Boutier finished 2nd here last year.
Finally, this year’s Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National may be worth a look. It’s an exposed, links-like course and relies on conditions to dictate difficulty. Last year’s winner in Scotland, Ayaka Furue, finished 4th in that event.
We should have some good links conditions in Scotland this week. Though plenty of rainfall prior to the start of the event will soften the course up, wind is set to blow at speeds of around 25kmh over the first two days, with gusts of up to 48kmh.
The rain returns on Sunday and while not scheduled to be quite as windy, there’s still enough around to make things difficult. Especially if playing in the rain at the same time.
After her win last week, Celine Boutier is up to a career best of #4 in the world and heads this week’s entries. She’s one of six from the world’s top 10 due to tee it up, along with fellow breakthrough major winners #5 Ruoning Yin, #6 Lilia Vu and #7 Allisen Corpuz.
Ayaka Furue returns to defend this week and is one of four past winners in attendance, with Ariya Jutanugarn, Mi-hyang Lee and Dame Laura Davies joining her.
This is a co-sanctioned event so we have a strong group of LET players stated to play and hoping to earn a potentially life-changing victory. These include current Race to Costa Del Sol leader Ana Pelaez and 17-year-old star German, Chiara Noja.
Hyo Joo Kim heads the betting at 9/1, followed by Atthaya Thitikul at 12/1. The trio of Linn Grant, Minjee Lee and Nasa Hataoka come next at 14s.
There’s the chance of draw biases this week due to conditions, which steers me clear of those at the very top of the market but there looks to be some good value a little further down the betting and I start with reigning Women’s Open champion, Ashleigh Buhai.
2 pts Ashleigh Buhai each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 30/1
I’ve backed Buhai quite a few times this year, including when she won the Shoprite Classic back in June and it’s safe to say that she is currently enjoying the best period of golf of her career.
Her win at the Women’s Open last year came as somewhat of a surprise but she has been no one-hit-wonder. Buhai added a win in the Women’s Australian Open at the end of last year against a strong field, then won the South African Women’s title for a third time at the start of this year and following a positive start to the year when she switched her attentions to the LPGA, she secured that first win in the U.S in the Shoprite Classic.
Her form has been perfectly solid since, finishing 13th on her next start and then making the cut in each of the three most recent majors; finishing 20th last week in the Evian Championship.
Buhai was really strong in France tee-to-green, but just couldn’t find anything on the greens to get her knocking on the door of those top 10 spots at the end of the week.
Her strength lies in approach, an area she ranks 6th in on the LPGA this season. She also ranks a solid top 40 in GIR and scrambling, whilst is just inside the top 50 on the greens and as one of the best par 5 scorers on tour, ranking 11th, she should be suited to this test.
She hasn’t shown this on three previous visits to Dundonald, finishing 38th and missing the cut twice but we of course have evidence of her ability on links courses with her Women’s Open win last year.
If that wasn’t enough, her win in the Shoprite Classic – a place where she’d recorded numerous top 10s before – gives us added promise this week and she can prepare for her title defence next week in the best possible way, by winning again in Scotland.
1.25 pts Anna Nordqvist each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 40/1
Anna Nordqvist continues to produce solid golf this year, coming into this week with a 20th in last week’s Evian Championship. Much like Buhai, she was strong tee-to-green there, ranking 16th but was hindered by a poor week on the greens.
Last week’s result was the Swede’s ninth top 20 of the season and seventh in her last nine starts. The best of which was a 3rd in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Her putting woes in France were a bit of a surprise, as she’s putted well this year, ranking 5th on the LPGA. Nordqvist has also looked good with her irons, ranking 2nd in GIR and 25th in approach; a top 40 ranking on the par 5s is another plus as to her chances this week.
Nordqvist finished 38th here last year but her links pedigree is clear for all to see. She won the Women’s Open at Carnoustie in 2021 and had recorded three prior top 10s, including when 7th in 2017 at Kingsbarns; another modern links designed by Kyle Phillips.
She’s also a two-time winner of the Shoprite Classic and if able to regain the form she’d showed with the putter for most of the year prior to last week, there’s plenty in her favour to expect a strong week in Ayrshire.
1 pt Ariya Jutanugarn each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 55/1
Two-time major winner, Ariya Jutanugarn’s form has been bubbling for much of the year. Coming into this immediately following her two best approach displays of the year, the 2018 Women’s Scottish Open winner can become just the second multiple winner of the event this week.
Jutanugarn has recorded six top 25s in fourteen starts this season, with a best of 2nd in the Meijer LPGA Classic and missed just four cuts.
That 2nd in the Meijer Classic came five starts ago and since then she’s kept up a decent level of form, finishing 24th in the Women’s PGA and followed a missed cut in the US Women’s Open with a 32nd-place finish in the Dana Open; then finishing 28th last week in the Evian Championship.
Those two most-recent performances are particularly encouraging as they were largely engineered by quality approach play, as Jutanugarn ranked 10th last week in France and 11th on her previous start. Prior to that, her putting had been doing most of the heavy lifting; an area in which she ranks 9th on the LPGA this season.
Her finishes of 44th and 62nd here may be underwhelming but she has a good record in Scotland, with multiple top 5s to go with her win in the event in 2018, whilst she’s also recorded a top 5 in the Shoprite Classic.
Meanwhile, her record on Women’s Open links courses is also encouraging, despite her 2016 win coming at Woburn – a none links venue. She finished 4th at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2018 and was 10th at Carnoustie in 2021.
With twelve LPGA wins to her name, Jutanugarn is a class act and looks nicely priced this week on a style of golf course she’s often performed well on.
1 pt Gaby Lopez each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 60/1
With finishes of 7th and 3rd on her last two starts, Mexico’s Gaby Lopez looked a decent price in here at a course where she recorded a solid top 20 on her last visit.
Lopez started the year strongly with a 6th in the Tournament of Champions on her first start of 2023 and followed by finishing 11th in the Saudi Ladies International on her next start. Her form tailed off following that but she showed some positive signs when 27th in the US Women’s Open three starts ago and has kicked on further over those latest efforts.
She’s struggled with her irons for most of the year, which she seems to have rectified somewhat over those recent starts. However it’s on the greens where she’s made the biggest improvements.
Lopez’s excellent 3rd in last week’s Evian Championship saw her produce her best putting performance of the year, as she led the field in gaining just shy of 9 strokes with the club. This effort came immediately following her second-best putting performance of the year, as she ranked 4th when finishing 7th in the Dana Open.
She can continue that recent upturn with the putter here this week, at a venue she finished 18th at last year, due in part to a strong top-25 performance on the greens and if managing to also show further improvements in approach, she can add a fourth LPGA-sanctioned trophy to her cabinet.
0.5 pt Leonie Harm each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 400/1
I’m going to sign off with a longshot in the shape of Germany’s Leonie Harm. This former highly-thought-of amateur has a great links pedigree and has started to show some consistent form on the LET over recent weeks.
Harm turned pro in 2020 following a stellar amateur career that took her as high as #4 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. There were plenty of standout performances during that time, including her three wins in the U.S Collegiate system in 2019, however the most eye-catching of all – especially in relation to the type of test she’ll face this week – is undoubtedly her win in the British Ladies Amateur Championship in 2018 at Hillside.
2020 wasn’t the most ideal year for anyone to turn pro but Harm performed solidly in her limited starts that year. However she looked to have made strides at the start of 2021, finishing 2nd in South African Women’s Open on her first start of the year and 3rd in the Czech Ladies Open a few starts later.
She again showed her liking for links golf towards the end of that year, finishing 7th in the Women’s Open at Carnoustie.
Though a win continued to allude her, Harm was still showing plenty of promise last year as she missed just one cut in her sixteen starts and filled the runner-up spot again when 2nd in the German Masters. However this year had initially been a bit more of a struggle until recent weeks.
Following a 13th-place finish on her first start of the year in the Lalla Meryem Cup, Harm missed seven consecutive cuts in events split between the LET and Epson Tour in the U.S, but she has started to look much better over the last couple of months.
She returned to some kind of form when 16th in the Belgian Ladies Open six starts ago and has since bounced back from a missed cut in the Scandinavian Mixed with a positive series of results. Culminating in top 25s in the Aramco Series – London and La Sella Open on her two latest starts.
Harm once again signaled her ability at links golf with a 15th-place finish her last year and is worth chancing at a massive price this week.