European Tour

Big names threaten Noren's defence of Scottish Open

Alex Noren (Getty Images)
Alex Noren (Getty Images)

Irvine - Swede Alex Noren will tee up this week on Dundonald Links looking to become the first player in the 45-year history of the Scottish Open to successfully defend the title.

Twelve months ago, Noren's two-shot victory at Castle Stuart in northern Scotland was the first of four European Tour victories in the second half of last year, a first for a Swedish-born golfer.

Noren, who turned 35 on Wednesday, tees up in the first round sitting in ninth place in the world rankings having captured a ninth Tour title in May courtesy of a sizzling final day and equal career low round of 62 that saw him win the BMW PGA Championship.

"I have many happy memories coming back here to Scotland and my win last year at Castle Stuart," he said ahead of Thursday's first round.

"Of course, I had won before on the Tour but nothing as big as the Scottish Open and a tournament that I thought I could never win, so it was like a dream coming true.

"This year has been a good year already but not near as good as my second half of the season last year.

"But unlike last year at Castle Stuart, I have come back to the Scottish having won the BMW PGA so I am starting to win the bigger events on the Tour."

Also in the Scottish Open field is compatriot Henrik Stenson who next week goes to Royal Birkdale to defend his Open Championship title won 12 months ago at Troon, just down the road from Dundonald Links.

Stenson, currently ranked seventh in the world, missed the cut at the recent US Open but bounced back to form a week later in Munich, finishing 10th in the defence of his BMW International Open title.

"To be back here on a beautiful day, it's easy to remember last summer, of course, and what I managed to accomplish a little bit down the road there," said Stenson.

"It has been a busy year, hectic year, and the Scottish Open is an important part of my preparation for The Open Championship, as you know.

"I'm here to try and play a bit of links golf and hopefully pick up some momentum and some form.

"My game feels like it's not far away but it needs that little bit of a push in the right direction, so hopefully this week we can take it up a notch or two."

Also looking to find form on the Scottish west coast is American Rickie Fowler, who won the Scottish Open two years ago at Gullane.

Fowler, Noren and Stenson are three of four members of the world's top 10 to be appearing at the event, with the other Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy is seeking a much-needed boost before The Open after missing the cut at his home event, the Irish Open, last weekend.

Meanwhile Fowler, after finishing a close fifth in last month's US Open to remain one of the top players on tour never to have won a major, is also clearly looking ahead to Birkdale.

"I am looking forward to playing this week here and getting myself in position to win the tournament and be in contention," he said.

"I have been playing well this year and everything has been trending in the right direction, being in contention in the first two Majors.

"I also enjoy playing the week before the Majors just to get myself ready to go, tick off some boxes."

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