The final men’s major championship of the year is upon us as the world’s best take to the links land of Royal St. George’s in Kent for the 149th Open Championship. Here is your comprehensive preview covering every aspect of the event.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Ireland’s Shane Lowry claimed an emotional victory when The Open returned to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951 when the championship was last played two years ago.
Lowry was brilliant over the course of the week in difficult conditions, compiling a 15-under four round total to win by six from Tommy Fleetwood. The Open was the lone major championship in the men’s game cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
COURSE: The most frequent host venue in England, The Royal St. George’s Golf Club, welcomes its 15th Open Championship this week and first since Darren Clarke triumphed in 2011.
Known colloquially as Sandwich, the layout was the first outside of Scotland to host The Open having opened for play in 1887, designed by Dr William Laidlaw Purves. The famed Dr Alister MacKenzie tinkered with the design, so too Frank Pennick, who was part of the removal of blind shots in the 1970s.
A typically difficult test for the best players in the world in part due to severely undulating fairways, St. George’s was the site of Greg Norman’s dominating 1993 victory, while golf writing doyen Bernard Darwin was president of the club for almost a decade.
Playing to a par of 70, St. George’s features the deepest bunker on The Open rota at the 4th hole, the famous ‘Maiden’ par-3 6th and a difficult closing stretch comprising of the par-3 16th followed by two par-4s measuring in excess of 420 yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH …
He may have been deposed of the top spot on the world rankings last week, but it was through no fault of his own and Jon Rahm rightly enters this week as favourite.
The Spaniard’s lone start since claiming the first of what most tip will be many major championship victories came last week in Scotland, where the US Open winner was a respectable 7th.
Rahm possesses all the traits of an Open winner in spades, and is clearly in magnificent form. Yet, hasn’t produced his best stuff at this event so far in his four previous starts.
Arguably the biggest test for the burly 26-year-old this week will be managing the inevitable frustrations that Royal St. George’s delivers on account of what seem to be good shots becoming bad ones thanks to the undulations sending the ball off track.
It is a major championship, so Brooks Koepka is most certainly a player to watch this week.
RIGHT: The Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry holds the Claret Jug aloft at Royal Portrush in 2019. PHOTO: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images.
The American former World No.1 continues to rehab his injured knee that was operated on earlier this year, but was T4 and T2 at the US Open and PGA Championship respectively, suggesting a fifth major title is not out of the question on the Kent coast.
Koepka shared fifth in his last start stateside before making the journey across the pond, and owns three top-10s in the game’s oldest major, including a T4 at Royal Portrush in 2019. Making his seventh appearance at The Open, Koepka’s game matches up very well for this venue.
There is plenty to like about the 11 strong Aussie contingent this week, with young players fresh of career altering victories, major debutants and veterans alike all a genuine chance to claim our first Claret Jug since Norman’s win here in 1993.
Adam Scott might not have the lead-in form of some of his compatriots, but the Queenslander has been fairly solid of late and has a significant advantage over much of the field when it comes to course knowledge.
Scott, who has only missed two cuts in the past two years and was T13 in his last start at the Travelers Championship, has played two Opens at this venue and arrived over a week ago to refamiliarize himself with Royal St. George’s, which all points to success on one of the game’s most fickle venues.
The 2013 Masters winner’s history at The Open is littered with high finishes, but also missed opportunities. However, returning to the site of his idol's last major win and surely buoyed by his fellow Aussies’ success around the world of late, Scott should be in a great space to contend this week.
Rory McIlroy shapes as an interesting player to watch this week as he attempts to find his game after two hugely disappointing showings since heading back to the European Tour after a T7 finish at Torrey Pines in the most recent men’s major.
McIlroy was T59 at the Irish Open around Mt Juliet before missing the cut at last week’s Scottish Open, at least affording him the opportunity to head to Sandwich earlier than planned to conduct some course reconnaissance.
The Champion Golfer of the Year in 2014, McIlroy was T25 here in 2011 and recorded top-5s in each of the following three years after his victory. The Northern Irishman missed the cut at Portrush in 2019 under the immense pressure of finally playing a major championship at home, and 2021 marks seven years since his last win in a grand slam event.
All these elements combining to make McIlroy one of the most interesting players in the 156-man field this week.
72-HOLE RECORD: Swede Henrik Stenson set the tournament scoring record during his epic Sunday battle with Phil Mickelson in 2016 at Royal Troon. Stenson took just 264 strokes (20-under) around the layout over four rounds to claim his lone major title, his record also equalling the scoring record for all major championships.
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Greg Norman (1993 & 1986), Ian Baker-Finch (1991), Kel Nagle (1960) and Peter Thomson (1965, 1958, 1956, 1955 & 1954).
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Jason Day, Lucas Herbert, Matt Jones, Brad Kennedy, Deyen Lawson, Min Woo Lee, Marc Leishman, Aaron Pike, Adam Scott, Jason Scrivener and Cam Smith.
Round 1: Thursday (Fox Sports 505 LIVE 3:30pm – 5am)
Round 2: Friday (Fox Sports 505 LIVE 3:30pm – 5am)
Round 3: Saturday (Fox Sports 505 LIVE 7pm – 5am)
Round 4: Sunday (Fox Sports 505 LIVE 6pm – 4am)
*AEST, check local guides