The Open Championship is the oldest major in golf, with 147 editions of the event having been previously held. Yet, this year’s Open just feels different.
A significant set of changes to the 2019 PGA Tour schedule moved The Open from the third major championship of the season to the fourth, meaning that the best of the best have only one more chance this year to add a first (or another) legacy-altering major to their professional resumes. The 155 players in the field that fail in that pursuit will have to wait nine months before their next shot.
Chief among those in the major chase this week is the legendary Tiger Woods, the man who rejuvenated his all-time great career when he won The Masters back in April, the major of the season. Now just three majors short of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record, Woods will be hoping his three previous Claret Jugs will have a greater influence on his week than the just three competitive events he’s played since The Masters.
Woods is always the most popular player when he tees up, but that might not be the case this week. For just the second time in history dating back to 1860, The Open will be played on a trackn not in Scotland or England. This year’s edition is being held at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, a land which last held an Open in 1951. Northern Ireland’s most famous resident is World No. 3-ranked golfer Rory McIlroy, who is in the midst of a phenomenal season, but still waiting out a surprising five-year major title drought.
A lot of players in this year’s Open Championship field had their last bogey in the event on Friday of last year. All of them missed the cut except for Francesco Molinari, who was unshakable in going bogey-free to win his first career major. Molinari will be hoping that experience allows him to successfully defend his 2018 title.
And a major cannot be discussed without mention of world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, whose name has become synonymous with the biggest stages in golf. Koepka has accumulated four major titles in his last nine major starts, including three in the past two seasons. More impressively, he has either won or finished runner-up in all three 2019 major championships. Despite questionable recent form – in non-majors anyway, Koepka is a top favorite to capture his first Claret Jug.
Then there is the usual crowd of Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele etc, etc, etc.
It may be happening a month earlier than usual, but the end of the major season will have an exceptional amount of urgency, equating to an exceptional amount of drama. It should be an exciting major championship week on the coast of Northern Ireland for the final leg of the major season.
Tournament: The Open Championship
Dates: July 18-21, 2019
Where: Portrush, Northern Ireland
Course: Royal Portrush (Dunluce Links)
Distance: Par 71, 7,344 yards
Architect: Harry Colt
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,890,000
FedExCup/OWGR Points: 600/100
Defending Champion: Francesco Molinari
Follow The Open Championship
Rd 1: Th 1:30 am-4:00 pm (GOLF)
Rd 2: Fr 1:30 am-4:00 pm (GOLF)
Rd 3: Sa 5:00 am-7:00 am (GOLF)
Rd 3: Sa 7:00 am-3:00 pm (NBC)
Rd 4: Su 4:00 am-7:00 am (GOLF)
Rd 4: Su 7:00 am-2:00 pm (NBC)
Open Championship History
The oldest of the four majors, The Open Championship has humble roots that date all the way back to 1860. The inaugural tournament featured a small handful of professionals playing three 12-hole rounds in one day at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland.
That first Open was won by Willie Park Sr., who finished the event in 174 strokes (this was back even before pars were a thing).
The early winners were awarded a red belt, known as the Challenge Belt, but the event had to come up with something new after the legendary Young Tom Morris was able to invoke a myopic condition where a player with three consecutive Open victories gets to keep the belt.
The belt became a medal, and as the tournament increased in prestige and participation, the ultimate prize became the Claret Jug, one of the greatest symbols of achievement in the world of elite-level sports.
The Open Championship’s illustrious list of winners includes both of the Tom Morrises (Old and Young), Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson, among others.
Vardon is the tournament’s all-time leader in wins with six, followed by James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Peter Thomson and Watson with five a piece. In all, 27 players have won multiple Open Championships.
Royal Portrush, a Harry Colt design, was founded 131 years ago, but despite a rich history, is hosting The Open for just the second time. It last was the host venue for the 1951 edition, won by England’s Max Faulkner, the only major championship of his 19-win professional golf career.
The power rankings for the final major offer no huge surprises other than maybe world No. 9 Justin Thomas the only top-10 ranked player excluded.
Four-time major winner, and world No. 1, Brooks Koepka is at the top of the list, with superstars Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy firmly entrenched in the top six.
Bernd Wiesberger, at No. 40, is the lowest ranked player on the list, and joins Louis Oosthuizen (22) and Matt Wallace (23) as the only three players ranked outside the world top-20.
Power Rank-Player (World Rank)
15. Bernd Wiesberger (40)
14. Matt Wallace (23)
13. Justin Rose (4)
12. Jon Rahm (8)
11. Francesco Molinari (7)
10. Matt Kuchar (13)
09. Bryson DeChambeau (6)
08. Louis Oosthuizen (22)
07. Dustin Johnson (2)
06. Tiger Woods (5)
05. Rory McIlroy (3)
04. Patrick Cantlay (10)
03. Adam Scott (16)
02. Xander Schauffele (11)
01. Brooks Koepka (1)
Top Sleeper: Rafa Cabrera Bello
Last year, we saw a 35-year-old tee-to-green wizard capture his first career major title at The Open, and if Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello has his way, it will be two years in a row.
Bernd Wiesberger has rightfully received the most attention for hot play in Europe as of late, but Cabrera Bello is on a streak of his own, with three straight top-10s on the European Tour. He would like to accumulate more victories, but he rarely misses a cut, having made his past 11, and not making the weekend just three times in his past 36 PGA Tour-sanctioned starts.
The world No. 34 has an all-around game that makes him an excellent fit for Royal Portrush, and a year ago, he ranked inside the top 20 on the PGA Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation while finishing 25th in strokes gained: tee-to-green. He has yet to truly contend in a major, but has a top 10 in one of the four in each of the past two years.
Storylines For Royal Portrush
1. Molinari Defends
It cannot be overstated just how impressive Francesco Molinari was in his Open Championship victory last year, the first major in the career of the then 35-year-old from Italy.
Showing an absurdly mature tee-to-green game, Molinari somehow played the weekend bogey-free at notoriously-difficult Carnoustie Golf Links, despite never having won a major before, and being paired on Sunday in a late grouping with Tiger Woods. He never looked remotely close to succumbing to pressure.
Now, a year later, can he become the first to successfully defend at The Open since Padraig Harrington 11 years ago? It is difficult to tell. Last year, he came into Then Open on an incredible hot streak, with two wins and two runner-ups among his previous five starts worldwide.
This year? Not so much.
He did have a four-start stretch earlier in the season that included a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a solo-third at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a T5 at The Masters, but since that strong finish at Augusta in April, he has played in just five events, all PGA Tour events. In those five starts, a T16 at the U.S. Open overshadows a missed cut and three finishes of T48 or worse.
His most recent result was a T57 at the Travelers Championship last month.
2. Major Koepka at Royal Portrush
It is a major championship, so it can be expected that world No. 1 Brooks Koepka will be ready to go. The new ‘King of the Majors,’ the 29-year-old American has claimed four major titles, all within his last nine starts. In the last six majors, he has three wins, and two runner-ups.
In the three majors of 2019, he has a win (PGA Championship) and two runner-ups. The juxtaposition between his majors and non-majors is puzzling, but he gets his game major-ready better than anyone on Tour. Koepka’s only finish outside the top 2 in his last six majors was a surprising T39 in this event last year, but he had posted top-10s in his two previous tries, showing that he can thrive at links golf.
Since his solo runner-up to Gary Woodland at last month’s U.S. Open, Koepka has made two starts, and was awful in both – posting a T57 at the Travelers Championship and a 65th place finish two weeks ago at the 3M Open. If it was anyone else, those two starts might be worrisome. At the moment, Koepka is a co-favorite with Rory McIlroy.
Another potential edge for Koepka this week? His caddy grew up in Portrush, and has as much knowledge of the course as anyone who will be at The Open this week.
3. Tiger’s Last Major Shot of 2019
Undoubtedly the most closely-watched story this week at Royal Portrush will be Tiger Woods’ last shot of 2019 in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships.
A 15-time major champion who has three wins at The Open Championship, the state of the 43-year-old’s game is a mystery. Tiger captivated the sports world when he won The Masters back in April, snapping a majorless drought of more than a decade. Between that historic victory as his win at the Tour Championship late last season, Tiger has felt more “back” than he has in years, again becoming a marquee player after years of serious injury and personal struggles derailed the career of an all-time great.
However, he has been seldom seen since winning that fifth green jacket. He did not play at all between The Masters and the PGA Championship, a decision he was criticized harshly for after missing the cut at Bethpage Black.
Since the PGA, he has made two starts: a T9 at The Memorial and a T21 at last month’s U.S. Open. He again decided to take a break from competitive golf since the U.S. Open, and if he struggles at Royal Portrush, the chatter will get deafening.
Tiger played very well in this event last year, taking the solo lead on Sunday before a double-bogey on the 11th hole killed his momentum. He ended up finishing T6, his best finish at The Open in five years. His last Open triumph was in 2006, when he clipped sort-of major rival Chris DiMarco by two strokes at Royal Liverpool.
4. THE Major For Rory?
Rory McIlroy has made 43 major championship starts in his very successful pro tour career, impressively finishing in the top 10 in 20(!) of those with four wins.
Yet, it might be major No. 44 that he is looking forward to most. A native of Northern Ireland, the man who has won tournaments in seemingly countless countries will finally get to compete at home. And it could be said that Royal Portrush is a place where he is confident in his abilities: he has the course record of a 61, which he set when he was 16 years old. He plays the Open extremely well, as evidenced by his 2014 victory and the top five finishes that he has in his last four event starts, including a T2 last year.
Over the past five years, he has the lowest Open cumulative score of anyone. On top of all that, the major probably could not be coming at a better time. Back at No. 3 in the world rankings, Rory is having a phenomenal season. In 14 PGA Tour starts, he has two victories (THE PLAYERS Championship and the RBC Canadian Open) and a Tour-high 11 top 10s.
Everything might be set up perfectly for him, but is he a slam dunk? Definitely not. He has a big mental hurdle to climb having not won a major in five years, and a lot of players have struggled with the pressure of playing big-scale events in front of home crowds before.
5. State of Spieth
Two years ago, Jordan Spieth used an inspiring back nine at Royal Birkdale to win by three strokes, capturing his third career major championship at just 23 years of age. The way he looked on that Sunday, and his entire career up to that point, it is downright shocking that he has not won anywhere since.
A former world No. 1, Spieth has fallen all the way to No. 38 in the world rankings. In 18 starts in the 2019 season, Spieth has 11 starts where he either missed the cut or finished outside the top 30. In 2017, he had just four such results in 23 starts.
Spieth’s season had been an absolute nightmare until mid-May, when he finished T3 at the PGA Championship, followed by top-10 finishes in his next two starts, although he shot rounds in the 70s on Sunday of all three.
Since looking like he was close to competing again, he has struggled in two starts, finishing T65 at the U.S. Open and missing the cut at the Travelers Championship. The expectation is that this is just a slump and that he will soon be back to his winning ways, but we are now single digit days away from his winless streak reaching two years.
A year ago in this event, he was the 54-hole co-leader, but finished T9 after a Sunday where he failed to card a single birdie.
6. Lefty Less Hefty, Could Recent Struggles End Here?
Phil Mickelson is just one year away from Champions Tour eligibility, having turned 49 on Sunday of last month’s U.S. Open. For a while now, he has played like someone much, much younger, but since an impressive three-stroke victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, he has been in a horrible slump.
In his last 12 starts, Mickelson has six missed cuts, and just one finish of better than T37: a T18 at The Masters. Even worse, he was a complete non-factor at the U.S. Open, finishing T52 at Pebble Beach (where he had won earlier in the year and where he had considerable past success) at what might have been his last realistic chance to win the career Grand Slam (he has six career runner-ups at the U.S. Open).
However, there may be reason for optimism this week. All the pressure from the U.S. Open build-up has passed and he can just go back to playing his game again. After a long time of looking like he just was not built for The Open, the event has suddenly become a favorite of his, after he won the 2013 edition, and finished runner-up in 2016 in an all-time great duel against Henrik Stenson.
Mickelson has also dropped 15 lbs ahead of The Open, and claims to “feel great.” This is the major where the older guys thrive most; Phil should not be forgotten.
7. First Time Major Champions?
Thanks mostly to Brooks Koepka, and also Tiger Woods, the recent rash of first-time major winners on the PGA Tour has slowed to halt. However, with Gary Woodland taking last month’s U.S. Open, it is possible that they are coming back into style. This field has a plethora of high-end players without a major on the resume who would make a great story.
Rickie Fowler is the highest-profile player fitting the description. He has not finished better than T22 in his last four attempts, however. Xander Schauffele appears very, very close to breaking through at a major as the 25-year-old three-time Tour winner has finished second or third in three of the last five majors, and played in the final Sunday pairing with Jordan Spieth a year ago.
The highest ranked player without a major is world No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau, who broke out of a recent slump with a runner-up finish two weeks ago at the inaugural 3M Open. Jon Rahm and Patrick Cantlay are two other young players inside the world top 10 looking for that first major.
There is also Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Wallace, and Marc Leishman, etc. And being a major where the average age tends to be higher (more on that later), this could finally be the breakthrough for older majorless players like Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, and Lee Westwood. There are a LOT of players who have a legitimate chance this week. This is WIDE open.
8. Red Hot Austrian
Looking for a European Tour regular going into The Open on a Molinari-like hot streak? This year, the obvious candidate is 33-year-old Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, the winner of last weekend’s Scottish Open, an event that has correlated well with Open success in the past.
The win was one of two in Wiesberger’s last six starts, which also includes a runner-up to Jon Rahm at the Irish Open two weeks ago, an eighth-place finish, and a T16. In that six-week span, his world ranking has risen precipitously from 378th to 40th.
Wiesberger has yet to post a top-10 in a major, and has been downright abysmal at The Open, where five career starts have not yielded better than a T64, but he did get a taste of major contention when he played in the final Sunday pairing with Rory McIlroy at the 2014 PGA Championship.
Stat of the Week
35.3 years – That is the average age of the past 10 Open Championship winners, the highest among the four major championships. Of the past 12 winners, only three have been under the age of 30. For a number of reasons, The Open seems to require a level of maturity higher than the other major championships.
Who does this especially benefit? Here are a few candidates worth keeping a close eye on this week:
Adam Scott (38): The 2013 Masters Champion was very-nearly an Open Champion, squandering a late lead at the 2012 event when he famously bogeyed each of the final four holes to lose by one to Ernie Els. Scott has risen from 41st to 16th in the world rankings this year, and has finished 18th or better in each of his past five major starts, including three top 10s.
Dustin Johnson (35): The world No. 2 and 20-time PGA Tour Champion has 17 top-10s in his major career, but just one victory: the 2016 U.S. Open. DJ finished runner-up in the first two majors of 2019, but has not been in his best form as of late, following up a T35 at the U.S. Open with a T35 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Of his 10 top-10s in the past five years of majors, just one came at The Open, a T9 in 2017.
Justin Rose (38): Similar to Dustin Johnson, Rose has a tremendous amount of success on the world golf stage, but just one major championship, which came at the U.S. Open in 2013. Rose, currently ranked 4th in the world, used a hot Sunday at Carnoustie a year ago to finish in the T2 mix, two strokes back of Molinari. He won the Farmers Insurance Open back in January, and was T3 at last month’s U.S. Open, but struggled badly playing in the final Sunday pairing with event champion Gary Woodland.
Louis Oosthuizen (36): One of the three under-30 winners among the past 12 Open Champions was Oosthuizen, who won in a 7-stroke romp at the 2010 event at Royal St. Andrews. A regular in major contention, Louis had just the one win, but has finished runner-up in all four majors, including a T7 last month at the U.S. Open, where he got off to a hot start in the final round before faltering down the stretch.
Matt Kuchar (41): The current leader in the FedExCup Standings is still looking for his first career major championship, but came close two years ago when he briefly held the back-nine Sunday lead before finishing runner-up to Jordan Spieth. Ranked 13th in the world, Kuchar has two wins and two runner-ups on the PGA Tour season, and has finished T16 or better in all three majors this year.
Odds To Win
The favorite this week in Northern Ireland is home hero Rory McIlroy, who enters his native country ranked No. 3 in the world, and owning two wins on the season. McIlroy is listed at 8-1 to break a five-year major drought. He’s just ahead of world No. 1 Brooks Koepka (10-1), who has not finished outside the top-2 in each of the first three major championship in 2019.
World No. 2 Dustin Johnson was next at 16-1, alongside Masters winner Tiger Woods, and Jon Rahm, who owns two recent Irish Open titles (2017, 2019).
Top-5 Betting Favorites
1. Rory McIlroy (8-1)
2. Brooks Koepka (10-1)
3. Dustin Johnson (16-1)
3. Tiger Woods (16-1)
3. Jon Rahm (16-1)
Full Field & Odds
“To play well, you must feel tranquil and at peace. I have never been troubled by nerves in golf because I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
– Harry Vardon, six-time Open Champion
“I enjoy this type of golf because it is creative. Feel has a lot to do with playing The Open and I think that guys traditionally over the years who have done well, have been wonderful feel players.”
– Tiger Woods, three-time Open Champion