Rory McIlroy happy to be faced with ‘a good test’ at the Renaissance Club

Northern Irish golfer complained that course was too easy in the past

Rory McIlroy will welcome a bit of punishment for wayward shots on his return to a venue which he once felt was indicative of European Tour courses which failed to provide a sufficient test.

McIlroy shot 13 under par in the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in 2019, but that was only good enough for a tie for 34th as Bernd Wiesberger beat Benjamin Hebert in a playoff after the pair finished tied on 22 under.

Two months later McIlroy shot 15 under par in finishing tied 26th in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and vented his frustration, saying he was “honestly sick” of such easy set ups and that the Renaissance Club had not been “a good test”.

The winning total last year was 11 under par and with new tees and thicker rough in place for the 2021 edition, McIlroy believes his total from two years ago could well prove more competitive this time around.

“I would say 14 under this week is probably going to have a decent chance,” the four-time Major winner said. “It’s all dependent on the weather, the direction of the wind, whether the course firms up any more than how it is right now.

“It’s obviously soft just from all the rain there’s been the last couple of days. But it’s good. It’s a good test. I think they have added a couple of tees. It’s a bit longer. The rough’s up a bit more than it probably was last time.

“Maybe players might just get punished a little more for wayward shots, which is sort of what you’re looking for. You’ve got to stand up and hit some good golf shots and you want to be challenged a little bit. I think the set up this week is pretty good.”

McIlroy had originally planned to take this week off ahead of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s, but with strict coronavirus controls in place for the year’s final Major, the 32-year-old’s wife Erica and daughter Poppy stayed behind in the United States and he added the Scottish Open to his schedule.

“I wouldn’t say it was forced upon me, I’m not here against my will,” McIlroy added before joking about where his allegiances would lie in terms of the Euro 2020 semi-final between England and Denmark.

“It made sense to play rather than go down to London for a week and sort of practice down there. I guess I could have got to Wembley and got my Danish top on!

“I’m looking forward to getting back on the golf course. I was pretty rusty last week in Ireland. I didn’t really do any practice the week after the US Open and it sort of showed in my game so it’s been nice to link back up with Pete [Cowen] who is here and worked on some stuff the last couple days.”

McIlroy began working with renowned coach Cowen after missing the cut in the Players’ Championship and the Masters earlier this year and won for the first time since November 2019 in the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

Asked how he would sum up working with Cowen and vice versa, McIlroy joked: “He would probably tell you that I’m shite.

“I think that’s the great thing about Pete, he doesn’t sugarcoat it. He’ll tell me when it’s not great so that when he does give me a compliment, I know that it’s real.

“It’s probably stuff I’ve worked on before but said in a slightly different way, slightly different thoughts.

“Pete’s been doing it such a long time and with so many great players so he knows what works and he knows what doesn’t.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning from him. He’s got such a great knowledge about not just the golf swing but the game of golf in general, and yeah, it’s been a good few months.”

SCOTTISH OPEN LOWDOWN

Purse: €6.75 million (€1.1 million to the winner)
Where: North Berwick, Scotland
The course: The Renaissance – designed by American course architect Tom Doak – was designed out of 300 acres of pine forest with a number of trees retained in strategic fairway and greenside positions. Built on land close to the Firth of Forth, and a neighbour of the famed Muirfield links, the course was deemed "too easy" by Rory McIlroy when he played in the tournament in 2019 with the cut falling at five under. Since then, the course has been strengthened with additional yardage and will play to a 7,293 yards par 71 scorecard.
The field: One of the strongest on the PGA European Tour for a regular season event, the Scottish Open's slot in the calendar immediately ahead of The Open has traditionally guaranteed a strong American presence. World number one and recent US Open champion Jon Rahm is the headline act and the strength of field on the world rankings index at 424 (with 56 points to the winner) reflects how many star names are teeing up.
Quote-Unquote: "Week-in, week-out on the PGA Tour we try to hit it as high as we can and out here we're trying to keep it as low as we can . . .there are some absolute brutal par 4s, number 11 most notably, 490 yards. I was hitting 4-iron [approach]" – Will Zalatoris on the contrast of playing links golf.
Irish in the field: Graeme McDowell (8.30am), Pádraig Harrington (8.40am), Jonathan Caldwell (9.20am), Rory McIlroy (1.00pm), Cormac Sharvin (2.10).
Betting: Hard to argue with Jon Rahm's place at the head of the market although the 15-2 odds seem just a little tight . . . in terms of value, the 35-1 about Branden Grace is worth a look while Richie Ramsay's improved form makes him an each-way fancy at 125-1.
On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 8am.

JOHN DEERE CLASSIC LOWDOWN

Purse: €5.25 million (€980,000 to the winner)
Where: Silvis, Illinois
The course: TPC Deere Run – designed by DA Weibring and Chris Gray – is a purpose-built stadium course on an elevated location overlooking the Rock River which measures 7,268 yards and plays to a par 71. It has a reputation for providing something of a birdie fest, with Paul Goydos's 59 in 2010 remaining as the course record.
The field: Not surprisingly a weaker than usual field on the PGA Tour given the exodus of players to Scotland, with world number 16 Daniel Berger the best-ranked player. Steve Stricker, a three-time winner, has opted to skip the US Seniors Open in favour of another crack at the John Deere.
Quote-Unquote: "I'm just looking at popping inside that top-125 (on the FedEx Cup), getting in the first playoff event and from there I'll bust it and try and get into the top-75 or 70 for the next event. I'm just looking to do well this week and try to make birdies and try and conjure up some of those feelings I had two years ago" – Dylan Fritelli, winner in 2019 and technically the defending champion, on seeking to turn around his season.
Irish in the field: Séamus Power is in a group with Ben Martin and Nick Watney (teeing off the first at 2.13pm Irish time).
Betting: Brian Harman has shown good form of late – two top-10s in his last three outings – and is available at 14-1 while Russell Henley did as well as anyone for three rounds of the US Open and is a 16-1 to rebound from that final round collapse. Troy Merritt is another looking to bounce back after his playoff loss in the Rocket Mortgage and looks decent each-way value at 40-1.
On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 8pm (red button from 12.45pm).

MARATHON LPGA CLASSIC
Purse:
€1.7 million (€250,000 to the winner)
Where: Sylvania, Ohio
The course: Highland Meadows Golf Club – 6,555 yards, par 71 – is a private members' club which has hosted the Marathon Classic dating back to 1989. A creek, measuring some 10 miles in total, meanders throughout the layout and is in play on a number of holes.
The field: Players in the field will wear pink ribbons as a sign of support to tour veteran Jane Park, whose young daughter Grace took ill last week and is undergoing treatment and observation in intensive care. American Danielle Kang is the defending champion.
Irish in the field: Leona Maguire (1.32pm) and Stephanie Meadow (6.43pm) both start on the first tee in their first rounds.
Betting: Danielle Kang, the defending champion, is the 15-2 favourite and, although she hasn't won since that victory last August, she has top-five finishes in her last two outings on tour . . . Leona Maguire's great form has seen her cut to 25-1 ahead of this event as she seeks a breakthrough win on the LPGA Tour. Rachel Heck, the world amateur number one, is playing on a sponsor's invite and could be worth an each-way look at 125-1.