The final major championship of the men’s golf season is now the best. The Open is now hitting clean-up but despite the change in order, very few things will change about the game’s oldest and instantly recognizable major championship. It’s still played in mid-July. The course will be a seaside links venue. It will probably be grey and windy and occasionally rainy. The look will always be the same.
One deviation this year, however, is the course. It’s still a seaside links indisputably worthy of hosting a major championship. It’s just that Royal Portrush has not been on the Open rota since 1951. The sectarian violence of Northern Ireland removed Portrush, one of the world’s very best courses, from the rotation for almost 70 years but now it is back, thanks in part to three Northern Irish golfers winning three majors at the start of this decade. Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, and Graeme McDowell will have a keen familiarity with the venue, but few others in the field have ever played it and no one has played it in The Open.
With that lack of course history, this Open could be especially hard to forecast but we march on here, throwing out wild and baseless predictions as best we can. Here are a few larger topics and what you could, maybe, possibly see and expect this week.
Who’s your dark-horse pick to win or contend down the stretch on Sunday? (ideally odds 60-1 or higher)
Brendan: I’ll take a flier on Eddie Pepperell. This is not exactly an under-the-radar name at this point, for various reasons, mostly off the course with his Twitter account and nonchalant comments last year about playing The Open hungover. He’s a known name and been in the top 50 in the world for much of this year. But he’s 100-1 and has made relatively few starts since the beginning of May thanks to a back injury. So I’ll use the word flier, even though it would be completely unsurprising to see him somewhere in the top 10 come Sunday. Webb Simpson is also an extremely good value at 100-1.
Kyle: If you follow my very bad twitter account, you know exactly who I’m picking here. 300-to-1 is insane value! Jorge Campillo Hive get in, we’re riding out.
Okay, seriously. He’s had a bit of a dip in form the last couple starts, but he’s near the top of the Order of Merit on the European Tour. As the self-proclaimed leader of the Euro Tour hive, I tend to like one or two guys that are #trending overseas. We both like Spaniards, sure, that works.
Campillo probably won’t win, but I’d not be shocked at all by a top-10 finish.
Now give me the Trophee Hassan II picture.
We’re on a sustained run of players from the top 25 in the world winning majors. Is there a first-time major winner out there this week? How about a super random long shot (like Todd Hamilton)?
Brendan: Xander Schauffele is the pick for first-time major winner. He’s been too consistent at each and every major to not be the first choice at this point. But he’s far from a random long shot. For that, I’ll go with Adri Arnaus, the Spaniard who has shown some form of late on the Euro Tour. He’s 500-1 and would definitely break the streak of big-name players winning The Open.
Kyle: How about Matt Wallace? He got a reputation last year on the Euro Tour as a big time boom or bust guy with a couple of wins and a bunch of flameouts, but he’s really steadied the ship this year with some nice finishes at quality events. He’s at 50-1, so this is actually less of a long shot than Campillo — but I do think Wallace has a couple major championship high finishes within him coming up. Might as well start this week.
Who is one big name, or maybe a few if you’re feeling mean, you expect to bomb out early and never contend at Portrush?
Brendan: I mean, the obvious choice here is Phil Mickelson, the 2013 winner. He’s adapted to this major in the late stage of his career, going from completely incompatible to smitten with links golf. But, uh, he just went on a six-day fast “to heal” and lost 15 pounds. Then he told Golf Channel on Tuesday, “I am so not into results or trying to win right now.” That sounds like someone who is going to miss his fifth cut in his last seven starts. Can we also throw Jordan Spieth back into the MC bundle, as well? Yes, ok, him too.
Kyle: Brooks! I’ve never loved Brooks on links, and I think we’re going to hit an expiration point on his ability to turn it on in majors. It’s just basically never happened, save maybe Hogan post-accident — which you could liken more to Tiger’s return than a guy who basically ONLY wins majors like Brooks.
The luck has to run out at some point. I think he’ll eject this week.
Rory is the headliner and host this week given his history with Portrush and the fact that it’s the first time we’ve played an Open here in almost 70 years. What are your expectations for McIlroy?
Brendan: Rory is the betting favorite given that history and what has been a very strong year, aside from those underwhelming major weeks. But my expectations are tempered for Rory this week. I think he’s relishing playing at home and the fact that the possibility of an Open in Northern Ireland has been realized. But I don’t think he’s all that thrilled being in the center of the circus and would rather just be off prepping for a major at some other rota venue in Scotland or England. He’s never enjoyed the circus all that much and this is the pinnacle of it in his career. So, yes, I think he’s grateful for hosting in a sense but I don’t think he’s happy about what it means for his golf. This will be a fourth 2019 major for Rory off the radar come Sunday.
Kyle: I’ll expound on this later down the page, but this all just makes too much sense. I’m not going to dive into the cultural milieu of Northern Ireland and what this championship means to a nation that’s undoubtedly been through a lot — Eamon Lynch knows it first hand and has already done that. We don’t need more golf writers riffing on The Troubles.
But despite all that, we love ourselves a good homecoming in sport. Rory winning at Portrush would instantly go down in the annals of history — and that’s the exact reason we watch majors. I’m going to save my prediction from going any further until the end of this piece.
Does it matter that Tiger has not played competitive golf since the U.S. Open? We’ve seen a flurry of opinions on this in the last couple weeks.
Brendan: Absolutely not! This does not matter. He traditionally has played just one event between the U.S. Open and British Open. This year, he played none. Tiger may not be ready or at his peak for this Open, but that has little to do with any amount of reps between majors. He’s just old, still putting his feet up from that all-time achievement at Augusta, and trying to take it as slow as possible. He’s probably not going to win but this micro-analysis of his schedule choices at this point and the charges that he’s not “serious” about winning because he didn’t play some Mickey Mouse tournament the past month are ridiculous. He’s earned the benefit of making that schedule that best suits his old, decrepit body.
Kyle: Honestly, yes — it matters. But that doesn’t mean Tiger’s making the wrong decision. It’s exceptionally hard to be as sharp as you need to be mentally to win majors without starts. I think the lack of starts heading into the US Open affected him, and this one will as well.
Tiger’s life has changed. His injuries don’t allow the prep they once might have. There’s nothing wrong with a little LOAD MANAGEMENT to stay fresh for majors. But I am curious if playing as little as Tiger does prevents that next-level scramble or laced 2-iron stinger under pressure. I don’t expect him to really be in the conversation on Sunday.
Who are you rooting for most this week? What would be your dream scenario on Sunday?
Brendan: How about Hideki Matsuyama winning Japan’s first major? The cliche dream scenario is probably Rory winning at home. It would be a great scene on Sunday. I hope he plays well.
But the ideal winner is Brooks Koepka. He’d complete a 2-1-2-1 year of finishes at the four majors, which would have an argument as the best single majors year in the modern era. Brooks has looked terrible in a couple starts since his runner-up at the U.S. Open, so a win here would only hammer home the narrative that everything else is just meaningless and really have the suits at the PGA Tour skittish. It’s a bizarre, glorious trend for the No. 1 player in the world to be this great at the majors and a total non-factor on Tour. A win at The Open would only solidify this trend and also free him up to call out even more names next year and speak even more on how little the other events mean to him.
Kyle: I’ve already left Brooks for dead, and the obvious story is Rory. Taking Northern Ireland’s first major in sixty-some years is the ideal outcome — no question. We root for history, and this event keeps delivering year after year right now. Let’s get a Tiger-Rory-Spieth duel down the stretch. That’s about the only thing that could live up to our run of the past five Opens.
Who’s your winner of the 148th Open?
Brendan: The winner will be our big, husky, club-slamming, curse-muttering Basque boy Jon Rahm. He won the Irish Open two weeks ago for a second time and now he’ll win again on another links course on the island. He’s been on this path from the day he turned pro, rocketing to the top five of the world rankings in record speed. The form is there, the game is there, and the comfort with this style of golf is there. His future is major championships and that future starts this week with another win in Ireland.
Kyle: I’m taking Rory. It makes too much sense, it’s a course he knows too well, and the story’s too good. I like to make cracks about how we all get snookered in by Rory on every major Friday afternoon — all before eventual ejection. But this is a home game in a major for him, a true first. I think this is the time.