It’s hard to believe, but the season’s final major – The Open Championship – is upon us.
For the first time since 1951, golf’s oldest major will tee off at Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush on Thursday morning.
Rory McIlroy, always a favorite in the majors, fired the Portrush course record of 61 when he was just 16 years old. It was his home course growing up. That’s got to be a huge advantage.
Brooks Koepka, winner of four major championships since June of 2017, has had an incredible major run in 2019. After a T2 in the Masters, Koepka won the PGA Championship and finished alone in second at the U.S. Open. Now, he arrives at Portrush with caddie Ricky Elliott – Elliott’s home course and one where he won several times in his former playing life. That’s got to be an advantage, too.
Along with McIlroy and Koepka, you’ve got all the big guns on the other side of the pond this week.
So which players should you be keeping a close eye on? Our caddies on the ground give you the inside track…
- Rory McIlroy. “Rory hasn’t won a major since 2014. In the span since that last PGA Championship win, he’s racked up 10, top-10 finishes in the majors, including two this season (T8 at the PGA and T9 at the U.S. Open). I can’t think of a sweeter place in the world for Rory to snag his fifth major title overall than right here, at home, at Royal Portrush… though he might think (and would probably be right) that a green jacket at the Masters to complete a career grand slam would be sweeter. He’s been enjoying an outstanding season with wins already at the Players Championship and the RBC Canadian Open. A win by Rory at Portrush would be fantastic for golf.”
- Xander Schauffele. “Shauffele is, without question, one of the best young players in the game today. The 25-year-old is already a four-time Tour winner and taking home a major just seems like a natural progression at this point. And it’s not like he hasn’t played well in majors already. In his first three seasons on the PGA Tour, Shauffele has recorded five finishes of T6 or better in 10 majors played. That includes T2 finishes in the 2018 Open Championship and the 2019 Masters. A major feels like it’s right around the corner for Xander.”
- Erik van Rooyen. “A player that people may not be familiar with yet, but they should get familiar with. The 29-year-old from South Africa has yet to win on the PGA or European Tours, but he’s played well in majors in which he’s been eligible for lately. Along with a T17 in the 2018 Open Championship, van Rooyen finished T8 at Bethpage Black in May at the PGA Championship. He starts this week after a T14 last weekend in the Scottish Open. I’m not sure that he’ll win at Portrush, but I am sure that he’s an excellent sleeper pick.”
- Tiger Woods. “Whoever wins this week will be a wizard at controlling the flight of their shots, particularly iron shots. With the course’s firmness, downwind holes will be hard to stop balls on the greens, and back into the heavy ocean air, the into the wind holes will play long. Trajectory control is a must. Height downwind to stop the balls and well-controlled flat shots into the wind. A lot of holes will play, with the prevailing winds, straight down or straight in. So controlling your height and launch angle is crucial. The master of this is also happens to be the 2019 Masters champion – Tiger Woods. He’s my pick to win.”
- Corey Conners. “Conners is a dark horse, but he’s an exceptional iron player. He’ll probably be looked over in the picks, but I would not be surprised if he features on the first page of the leaderboard. Corey broke out with his maiden Tour victory at The Valero in San Antonio this year in impressive style. That wasn’t a links course by any stretch, but a tough, windy course where trajectory control is a must to win. He’s starting to come into his own.”
- Graeme McDowell. “The sentimental side of me is hoping for Graeme to have a big week. What a story that would be. And it’s not like he couldn’t have a big week. He knows Royal Portrush as well as anyone, he is a former major winner (2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach) and he’s shown some form this season (win in the DR and that 30-footer he made on the 72nd hole at the RBC Canadian Open just to get into this week).”
- Matt Kuchar. “There have been only two seasons since 2010 (2011 and 2016) where Kuchar hasn’t recorded at least one, top-10 finish in the majors. This year, he went T12 at the Masters, T8 at the PGA and T16 at the U.S. Open. He’s been sensational all year and has earned the No. 1 spot in the FedEx standings that he’s owned pretty much all season. It’s time for Kuchar to win a major and the Open is probably his best chance.”
- Brooks Koepka. “World No. 1. Winner of four of the last nine majors he’s played. Royal Portrush is his caddie Ricky Elliott’s home course. Enough said.”
- Gary Woodland. “His one start since winning the U.S. Open was a missed cut at the 3M Open… just his second missed cut this season. I’m not putting much stock into that. He’s well rested and deserves some respect as the player who won the last major played.