The wind in Scotland is blowing and the fescue is at peak lushness. This can only mean one thing: The Open Championship, the Gem of Mid-July, is here again!
A year after golf fans were captivated by Zach Johnson’s thrilling playoff victory over Mark Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews, the 145th edition of the classic tournament will be played at The Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club in South Ayrshire, Scotland.
As always, a deep and extremely talented field will be battling a treacherous layout and the mercurial weather of northwestern Europe for one of the most prestigious trophies in professional sports: the Claret Jug. Despite the abundance of European Tour Members in this elite field, who are infinitely more conversant with links golf than Americans, players from the red, white, and blue to the west have taken the last six Royal Troon Opens.
International stars such as Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Branden Grace, Danny Willett, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, and others are determined to bring honor to their individual home countries, and prevent that number from reaching seven straight.
With its ultra-rich tradition and inimitable landscapes, there is no event that embodies the phrase “The Grand-daddy of Them All” better than The Open Championship. Out of respect for Keith Jackson, Pro Golf Weekly will not push ABC to relinquish that trademark, even though “The One You Watch Over Breakfast” is far less mellifluous. Whatever you call it, The Open begins on Thursday, and to the joy of nearly everyone, is NOT run by the USGA, so it promises to be first-rate yet again.
The beginnings of The Open Championship date all the way back to 1860, making it the oldest of the major championships. With very small fields playing just three rounds of Scotland’s then 12-hole Prestwick Golf Club, The Open is nearly unrecognizable now, compared to what it once was. The early Open winners were awarded a red-leather belt called The Challenge Belt.
Just ten years in, the presentation of The Challenge Belt to the winner was discontinued when the legendary Young Tom Morris got to keep the expensive belt, as the result of a poorly-conceived rule transferring legal ownership to any winner of three consecutive opens. After a one-year tournament hiatus, due to the lack of a tangible championship award, The Open gave its next winner (Young Tom Morris again) a medal. The Claret Jug was later created, and to this day, the winner’s name is engraved onto it. Harry Vardon’s name appears it on the most times (six), followed by James Braid, J.H Taylor, Peter Thomson, and Tom Watson, who have five Open victories apiece.
The event now boasts a field of 156, and analogous to the U.S. Open, invites a high number of amateurs, although no amateur has won The Open since Bobby Jones in 1930.
Royal Troon, which until 1978 was referred to simply as Troon Golf Club, was founded in 1878 as a five-hole course. Six years later, Troon was expanded to 18-holes, and it attracted its first Open Championship in 1923, which was won by Arthur Havers of England. The club has hosted eight Open Championships in all, with the past six being won by Americans. Most recently, Royal Troon held the 2004 Open Championship, won by the relatively anonymous Todd Hamilton in a four-hole aggregate playoff over South Africa’s Ernie Els.
Open Championship Winners at Royal Troon
1923: Arthur Havers ENG
1950: Bobby Locke RSA
1962: Arnold Palmer USA
1973: Tom Weiskopf USA
1982: Tom Watson USA
1989: Mark Calcavecchia USA
1997: Justin Leonard USA
2004: Todd Hamilton USA
Name: Royal Troon Golf Club (The Old Course)
Where: Troon, South Ayrshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Distance: 7190 yards
Architect: The original 18-hole course was designed by George Strath, and was later updated by Willie Fernie.
FedEx Cup Points: 600
The defending champion is American Zach Johnson, who shot a final round 66 to vault into a three-way tie atop a star-studded leaderboard at 15-under par at St. Andrews. Johnson played the four-hole aggregate playoff in 1-under to beat Louis Oosthuizen (E) and Australia’s Marc Leishman (+2). Jordan Spieth, who was attempting to win his third consecutive major, missed a par putt on 17 and then nearly chipped in for a birdie on 18 that would have put him in the playoff as well. Also one stroke out of the playoff was 54-hole co-leader Jason Day, who shot a final round 70.
Other Recent Champions
2014: Rory McIlroy
2013: Phil Mickelson
2012: Ernie Els
2011: Darren Clarke
2010: Louis Oosthuizen
(All times local)
8:03a Branden Grace, Patrick Reed, Byeong Hun Ah
9:25a Danny Willett, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
9:36a Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson
12:31p Todd Hamilton, Justin Leonard, Mark Calcavecchia (3 last Open winners at Troon)
1:15p Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar, Andrew “Beef” Johnston
1:26p Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els
2:04p Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Russell Knox
2:15p Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson
Lowest Final Score: Greg Norman shot a tournament low 267 in the 1993 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, although Tiger Woods’ 2000 victory at St. Andrews was lower in relation to par (-19)
Lowest Round: 63, 8 times (Mark Hayes, Isao Aoki, Greg Norman, Paul Broadhurst, Jodie Mudd, Nick Faldo, Payne Stewart, Rory McIlroy)
Rounds 1-2: 1:30am – 4:00pm (Golf Channel)
Round 3: 4:00am – 7:00am (Golf Channel); 7:00am – 2:30pm (NBC)
Round 4: 4:00am – 7:00am (Golf Channel); 7:00am – 2:00pm (NBC)
1. Dustin The Wind
As bar-none the hottest player on the planet right now, any analysis of The Open Championship field needs to begin with Dustin Johnson. The World #2 and FedEx Cup Standings leader Johnson has won his last two starts, and has finished in the top-5 in eight of his last 11 tournaments. One of those recent wins was at The U.S. Open, which finally got the major monkey off his back, and put the rest of the golf world on notice. His name has been ubiquitous on major leaderboards since 2010, but now as a breakthrough champion, he is being viewed in a completely different light.
More than anyone else in this tournament, his name is one to fear. There is nothing that can be said about what you need at Royal Troon that Johnson does not have in spades. He has always been amazing off the tees, but now his approach and short games have caught up, and his biggest enemy in the past, his own mind, has also assimilated into his all-around greatness.
2. Return of Rory
As tremendous as last year’s Open was, the tournament was a little soured by the biggest name not in the field: Rory McIlroy. McIlroy, then the #1 ranked player in the World, would have been defending his wire-to-wire 2014 victory at Royal Liverpool, but ruptured ankle ligaments playing soccer less than two weeks prior.
The now World #4 is back, although his game has been somewhat of a question mark. At times, he still looks dominant: he is yet to finish outside the top-6 in any non-major this season, both in the U.S. and in Europe, but he has developed a frustrating proclivity for combining outstanding rounds with outstandingly poor rounds in majors. After 36 holes at The Masters, McIroy was in second place, just one stroke behind Jordan Spieth, before tumbling down the leaderboard after a birdieless third-round 77. He then went 77-71 at The U.S. Open to miss the cut entirely. Nobody questions his talent when he is on, but will Rory be able to keep the high scores away for four rounds in blustery conditions? As always, the 27-year-old from Northern Ireland will have a plethora of crowd support.
3. Dazzling Day
Between Dustin Johnson’s recent tear, and an uncharacteristic back nine collapse at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a lot of people have forgotten just how unbelievable Jason Day has been playing. The World’s #1 ranked player, the 28-year-old Aussie has seven wins in his past 20 events, with a lot of those being in elite-field tournaments: The PGA Championship, The Players, WGC-Match Play, The Barclays, the BMW Championship among them. He has also finished in the top-10 of the past six majors, and nearly pulled off an amazing comeback at The U.S. Open.
The ability to grind and make putts will be of upmost importance at Royal Troon, and nobody is having more success with the flat stick this season than Day. It will be a big surprise if he’s not in contention on Sunday.
4. Spieth’s Superiority
Jordan Spieth has become so good, that he can have a season like he is right now with two victories and six top-10s, and have it be considered a mild disappointment. Yes, that 12th hole at The Masters still stings, but this is a guy who, at this time last year, was talked about as a genuine candidate to complete the calendar Grand Slam. If not for an untimely missed six-foot putt on 17, he most likely would have been in that playoff, which would have given him a great shot being 3-for-3 in the majors going into the PGA Championship (where he finished in second place). Spieth is absolutely an elite big-event player and may have the best mental game on tour.
It has been a tough climb back up from the disaster at Augusta, but with a victory at the Dean & Deluca, and a T3 at the WGC-Bridgestone, there is not much to doubt about him. The biggest question going into the week for Spieth might be how much talking he does.
5. Majorless Europeans
This week is very likely to be circled on the calendars of three Europeans who are in the forefront of the conversation of who takes over Dustin Johnson’s vacated position of best player in the world without a major: Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood. At #6 in the world, the 40-year-old Stenson is the highest ranked of the trio, and also has the most recent victory: a 3-stroke win at the BMW International Open. However, of the three, he has also been the least relevant in majors, with a T24 at The Masters before withdrawing after a first-round 69 at The U.S. Open.
Sergio, the world #12, contended at The U.S. Open, but like so many other times in his career, he fell just short. However, at #2 on tour in GIR, he has the physical game to win at Royal Troon, but as always, it will come down to the mental game for the 36-year-old Sergio. Westwood, the ultimate majors bridesmaid, has fallen to #39 in the world, and also has the dubious honor of having played in the final group with the winner of both 2016 majors. Over the past two years, the 43-year-old has often looked past his prime, but he has still shown that he has the game to contend at majors. We just don’t know if he has the game to win one. For Stenson, Garcia, and Westwood, Royal Troon offers the best opportunity to snare that elusive major championship, and all three will likely be playing with a sense of urgency.
Other Notables in the Field
Since a breakthrough 2014, where he finished in the top-5 of all four majors, Fowler’s majors game has been a disaster. He has missed the cut at both 2016 majors so far. However, he has been contending in other tournaments, with seven top-10s in 15 non-majors this year.
Maybe the best ball-striker on tour, Scott clearly likes The Open Championship, with top-10s in the past four editions. He won twice early in the year, but has been quiet since a victory at the WGC-Cadillac at Doral, where he shook hands with Donald Trump. I don’t know if that means anything.
Grace, the world’s #10 ranked golfer, has been South Africa’s best over the past two years. He has shown great form as of late, with five top-10s in his past six events. With three top-5s in his past five majors, he looks very close to breaking through in one of these events.
Kuchar, the top-10 machine, world #15, and newest U.S. Olympian, still has not won a major. Like Grace, he has been on fire in his last six events: finishing in the top 6 in five of them, including a T3 at The Players.
Mickelson has not won a tournament since his triumph at the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield. The 46-year-old is having something of a career resurgence with five top-5 finishes on the season. He is fifth on tour in scoring average despite missing the cut in both majors. At #1 in the field in par-3 scoring average, Phil might be the man most likely to conquer the Postage Stamp.