Why Gleneagles matters

Scottish golfer Stephen Gallacher
Gallacher is aiming for victory at Gleneagles

In the busy and congested calendar that makes up the modern golf season, you could be forgiven for overlooking the Johnnie Walker Championship.

Chat to any fan and they'll probably point to the four majors, world matchplays, Wentworth and the Scottish Open as the stand-out tournaments of the year.

But a visit to Gleneagles this week will reacquaint you with how good an event this is and how important it can be for those who do well here.

With prize money of £1.4m, it's in the top half-dozen of richest events on the European Tour.

And the influence of chairman Colin Montgomerie means the championship always draws a good field, something that's not always easy at the end of a long summer of golf.

The 156-strong list of players taking part this week is headed by winning Ryder Cup captain Monty, next year's leader, Jose Maria Olazabal, and defending champion Edoardo Molinari.

By tradition, Gleneagles week plays a big role in the biennial clash between Europe and the USA, being one of the last events before a captain announces his team.

Molinari's blistering birdie-birdie-birdie finish last year forced Montgomerie to pick him for that wonderful winning week at Celtic Manor.

And thoughts of the Ryder Cup will never be far away for players and spectators alike here in Perthshire as the PGA Centenary Course will host the trans-Atlantic clash in 2014.

One man hoping to take part is Stephen Gallacher, one of 25 Scots teeing off here on Thursday.

"The Ryder Cup would be the ultimate goal but this week is all about Johnnie Walker. This is a course that I enjoy playing in a beautiful part of the world, it's a real breath of fresh air," he said.

With four top-10 finishes in the last decade at Gleneagles, Gallacher knows how to play here and comes into the tournament after a third-place finish at the recent Irish Open.

Edoardo Molinari
Italian Edoardo Molinari triumphed last time out at Gleneagles

"You want to win on your home soil and in front of your home crowd," he added. "Any time you play in Scotland, it gives that bit of an added edge."

Another player looking forward to tackling the fantastically-named 201-yard sixth, 'Mickle Skelp,' par-three 17th, 'Ca' Canny', or the par-five 18th, 'Dun Roamin', is amateur James Byrne.

The 22-year-old from Banchory is making his debut in a European Tour event having just been named in the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team that takes on America at Royal Aberdeen next month.

"It's a great chance to see where I'm at against some of the best on the tour," said Byrne.

"Obviously, next month is on the horizon, but I'm focusing to do as well as I can here. I feel if I can play well then I can compete."

The Johnnie Walker Championship may not spring immediately to mind when discussing the stand-out tournaments of the season, but its importance is there for all to see.

Those with thoughts of the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and end-of-season ranking points will testify to that.

Phil will be reporting from Gleneagles throughout the Championship. Follow him on TV, on Radio Scotland and online at the BBC Sport Nation website.

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