The Open Championship: 3 To Watch
The greats of the golfing world will descend upon England this week for the final major of the year, The Open Championship. While all the majors are hotly anticipated affairs, perhaps this year the Open Championship is held in higher regard than the others.
Last year the event was postponed due to the COVID pandemic and it was the first year since 1945 that it hadn’t been contested. And being golf’s only major outside of the US, it meant the game lost something more than just a tournament last year, it lost part of its appeal, its international nature.
Shane Lowry has had the honour of calling himself the Open Champion for the past 24 months but now the Open Championship is back and the time for titles and past glories is over. A new links challenge beckons and the top pros in the world are fine-tuning their games as they get set to do battle in the arena of Royal St Georges for the 149th iteration of the Open Championship.
There are a few important points to know about the course. It will be the 15th time the venue has hosted the Open Championship, which is the fourth most behind Muirfield, Prestwick (which last hosted the Open in 1925) and of course, the Home of Golf itself, St Andrews.
The last time the Open Championship was played here was a decade ago in 2011 when Darren Clarke tasted major glory after a three-shot victory over American duo Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. It was a very different golfing landscape back then with Luke Donald as the world’s number 1 golfer heading into the week and current Senior Tour players such as Steve Striker, KJ Choi, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els were all inside the world’s top 25.
Of the five above names, only Els will feature this week and he will be joined by a raft of players who form the new generation. Morikawa, Hovland, Lee, Higgo. Players who were only young teens or pre-teens in 2011. Can the new breed pick up another win or will it go to someone else? And if so, who?
There are no shortage of storylines going into the week and the backdrop of the upcoming Ryder Cup, made extra special by its own 1-year delay, looms large. If players want to force their way into contention, this is the place to do it. A win this week and it makes you very difficult to ignore if you haven’t already qualified automatically.
Of the last 13 winners of the Open Championship, 7 were European – 5 of whom hailed from the island of Ireland – 4 were American and 2 were South African. Does this particularly count for anything? How about the face that 3 of the last 4 winners were first-time European major champions? Or that 5 of the last 9 winners were tipping or had tipped the age of 40?
There are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes to factor in this week. Without wasting any more time let’s look at the three players we think stand the best chance of lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.
It’s not a particularly creative pick and here’s the reason why. If Rahm shows up, everyone else is playing for second. The Spaniard has a phenomenal game and while he may have lost his number one spot this week and will be disappointed with a 7th place finish, he is still the man to beat this week.
His maiden major victory at the US Open last month was a masterclass and he showed his ability and potential on those last two holes on Sunday, holing two rakers of putts to seal the victory. His record in the majors is largely impressive, the only blip coming at this event. His best finish was a T11th in 2019, a poor return for someone of Rahm’s calibre. And surprising too, especially since he has twice triumphed at the Irish Open on Links courses; 2017 at Portstewart and 2019 at Lahinch.
He has all the shots. A short swing which will help him keep the ball low and under the wind. A short game that has that typical Spanish flair and a personality to match. I expect Rahm to right a few wrongs in past Opens and challenge this year.
Watching Spieth should come with a health warning, especially if you are banking on him to win. He talks so much to the ball you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Sure you’ve just seen your money go down the drain but you got good value for it.
But I don’t think any money would be going down the drain with Spieth this time round. He has had a tough time of it these last few years. His performances from 2013 to 2017 were sensational. From his first win in a three-man, five-hole playoff (two weeks before his 20th birthday) right up to his Open Championship victory in 2017, Spieth was reaching icon status. A putter that never missed and a player that never quit. 14 wins, 3 of which were majors, and a world number one spot. A likeable player, relatable and a fan favourite.
But then things changed. The putts stopped dropping. The ball started to go this way and that and the more Spieth tried to talk to it, the less it listened. Winless seasons in ’18, ’19 and ’20, the latest of which was particularly difficult after managing only 2 top tens in 20 starts.
Spieth was working hard but seemed to be in crisis, almost dropping out of the world’s top 100 at the start of this season. And that’s when it changed. A strong performance restored some of Spieth’s confidence. And then another. And another. His 2021 record stands at 14 events, 1 win, 1 runner up, two 3rd place finishes and four further top tens.
He still isn’t quite yet the Spieth of old but he’s on his way. This could be the week he sends out a warning to the golfing world.
I’m back. Watch out!
Football didn’t come home last weekend but the Open could. At least one Englishman will content this week. That’s my standout prediction. Of the list of candidates, the most likely are Hatton, Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Casey, Westwood, Rose and Poulter. And history has shown us that more experienced players have triumphed at the Open which leaves us with a selection of Casey, Westwood, Rose and Poulter. Out of these three, only Rose has previously won a major.
But in the end, it was Westwood who came up trumps in my mind. 48 years of age. 87 major starts. 19 top tens. 0 victories. It might be a romanticised view to think that Lee will win this week but it is not without merit. Westwood has played in the Open 25 times and recorded six top 5 finishes, including a T4th in 2019.
Time seemed to have taken its toll on Westwood around 2017/2018 and you would have been forgiven if you thought his glory days were over as he slipped outside the world’s top 20. But a staunch competitor, Westwood has turned things around. He won last year in Abu Dhabi and this year he has recorded two runner-up finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship. His form of late has been average but Westwood has transitioned recently from a player who plays consistently well to someone who has his best performances in fits and bursts.
Westy is a former world number one and considered by many to be the Greatest Player to Never Win a Major. But at 48 time is not on his side and St George’s could be the perfect theatre for this old gunslinger to ride once more.
Do you agree on our three to watch at the Open Championship? Yes? Great! No? Then tell us who you think will triumph on Facebook and Instagram. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
Enjoy watching the golf,