Wednesday 7 July 2021 2:23 pm

Sam Torrance: Stellar field including Rahm, Thomas and McIlroy has it all to play for at abrdn Scottish Open

The abrdn Scottish Open marks the start of a fantastic time of year in the golf calendar.

It means that the Open Championship, one of the sport’s biggest events, is just around the corner.

But the Scottish Open is also a wonderful event in its own right and, with an extraordinary field, never more so than this week.

Four of the world’s top five will tee off at the Renaissance Club on Thursday, including recent US Open winner Jon Rahm.

All will want to hone their game for the Open at Royal St George’s next week but they’ll also want to win here first.

And for three players yet to qualify, it is a last chance to book their place at the year’s final major.

As a big home event, I always wanted to play well at the Scottish Open. I never managed to win but I got great support every time.

The Renaissance Club is surrounded by other top golf courses, including Muirfield, but is a cracker in its own right.

It is a great test, especially since the fairways were tightened up between the 2019 and 2020 Scottish Opens. You want it to be difficult because then the best players are more likely to win.

Links golf doesn’t come around that often so when the chance comes to practice it you really want to take it.

The other side of the coin, though, is that playing is really tough when it’s very windy.

By the end of the week your swing can be in tatters and it doesn’t feel like great preparation for the Open any more.

US Open champion Rahm at ease on links courses

World No1 Rahm has had a short break since winning the US Open and will be so ready to play again this week.

He handled his first major victory like a veteran and he can feed off the manner in which he won for a long time.

Links golf comes more easily to some, and Rahm – who can draw or fade the ball, drive it high or low – has all the tools you need.

Justin Thomas made his Scottish Open debut in 2019 and immediately saw improved results at the Open. That’s no coincidence.

He is wonderful player but I’m not certain that links golf suits him that well.

Fellow American Collin Morikawa also has a fantastic game and his consistency this year has been really impressive.

He’s a great iron player, which you need for seaside golf, and I’m sure he’ll contend this week and next.

Like Thomas, Xander Schauffele is a high ball flighter. Again, he could probably use more practice in these conditions, despite coming tied for second at the Open in 2018.

McIlroy looking to fine-tune new swing

Rory McIlroy knows links golf better than most but even he says he feels like he needs more.

That’s perhaps due to the changes he has made to his swing with coach Pete Cowen.

It can be difficult to make a new action feel like second nature in tough conditions, so Rory in particular will be hoping for good weather.

He will have been very disappointed with his performance at the Irish Open last week but I get the sense he’s close to being more comfortable with his swing. And when he does he’ll be very dangerous indeed.

Tyrrell Hatton was second at this tournament in 2016 and I’m a huge fan of his.

Hatton is a wonderful iron player, a great drawer of the ball and a serious competitor. Having grown up with these conditions, he has done very well at British tournaments.

If we are to see a Scottish winner then the most likely man is Bob MacIntyre. He was tied for 14th last year at this venue and will love being back on home soil.

Other Scots to look out for include Grant Forrest, who did very well at the Irish Open, Connor Syme, Calum Hill, David Law, Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson.

Sam Torrance OBE is a Ryder Cup-winning former golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam.