Who will conquer the unpredictable conditions and the challenging course to take home the coveted Claret Jug?
148th Open Championship, from 6.30am, Thursday 18 July, Sky Sports Golf/HD (CH 515/505)
The Open Championship is unique among the golf majors for many reasons, the most crucial one being that it’s always played on a coastal links course. These are natural (rather than man-made) and open to the elements, especially the wind, and this creates a particular set of challenges for the competitors. It takes a special mix of skill and tenacity to triumph in the Open… and some good, sensible shoes!
Being a big hitter isn’t enough; the breeze can send your drives in all sorts of unexpected directions. A supreme short game is helpful, but the deep bunkers on links courses are unlike those found anywhere else. And although the game’s top players know legendary venues like St Andrews, Carnoustie and Muirfield well, 2019 brings them to the less familiar environs of the Royal Portrush club in County Antrim – only the second time the Open has been held outside England and Scotland.
So who will impress us, entertain us and surprise as the top-flight field all strive to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year? Well, we’ve got a few ideas…
It suddenly dawned on Koepka – midway through the 15th hole – that he’d left his car boot open again.
At the moment, it’s hard to envisage anyone else as the winner. The number one golfer in the world has finished in the top two of every other major this year – including a successful defence of his PGA Championship title – and seems to reserve his best moments for the biggest events. The only possible exception to that? The Open. Among Koepka’s huge 2018 victories lurks a 39th-place finish at Carnoustie. We’re intrigued to see if he can up his game on the links this year.
No one will be more desperate to win the Claret Jug than the golfer competing for it in his home country for the very first time. A partisan crowd will surely fire up the man from Holywood, who will be looking to add to his four major wins. And McIlroy’s in good form too, with top-ten finishes in three of the past five majors, and a victory in this year’s Players Championship. Is golf coming home for Rory?
No player has defended the Open title since Pádraig Harrington did just that in 2008, but Molinari could be the man to break the spell. He finished 2018 as Race to Dubai champion and European Tour Golfer of the year, and led the 2019 Masters after three rounds before getting into a spot of water trouble on the final day. The Italian’s brilliant 65 at Carnoustie was a highlight of last year’s event – don’t be surprised to see more of the same at Royal Portrush.
Some people say that buying a personal snow machine is a waste of money. Not Justin Rose.
Rose broke onto the world scene with an incredible fourth place as a 17-year-old amateur in the 1998 Open, and it seemed only a matter of time before he won it. Somehow it hasn’t happened yet, although in the past few years he’s got closer, claiming a sixth-place finish in 2015 and the runner-up’s silver salver last year. He’s riding high in the rankings, but at 38, the Englishman is running out of chances. It could be now or never…
In just four years as a pro, Rahm has already had four top-ten major finishes, won seven tournaments and been part of a victorious European Ryder Cup team. At just 24, the Basque plays with a lack of fear that could help him breeze past the challenges of links golf to top the leaderboard… as long as he doesn’t let his notorious temper get the better of him. The man they call “Rahmbo” is liable to throw a club when things don’t go his way. Keep that in check and he might triumph.
Every now and then an Open champion comes out of nowhere. Few predicted Todd Hamilton’s win in 2004, or Paul Lawrie’s in 1999 (memorable for Jean van de Velde’s meltdown). If a surprise contender emerges this year, it could well be this popular Englishman. He’s firmly established in the world top 20 and has recently shown flashes of brilliance, such as his 63 at the 2018 US Open – where he finished second – and his rip-roaring performance at the Ryder Cup, where he was unbeaten with four points. We wouldn’t bet against him.
Somebody call the police! There’s a Tiger on the green!
So there’s this up-and-coming golfer we’re hearing good things about… Another major win for Woods seemed impossible not long ago, when his back was shot, his game was dismal and his private life was all over the place. That all changed at last year’s Open, when the American finished an impressive sixth, and if you thought his Masters win in April was the culmination of his astonishing comeback, you should probably think again. He’s back in the top-ten rankings, he’s looking for his 16th major title and he’s no doubt got the rest of the field seriously worried.
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