Next Sunday someone will become the winner of the 30th Open Championship to be contested over the Old Course at St Andrews. Despite his pre-tournament prep including some links golf in Ireland with Rory McIlroy, the odds have to be quite heavily against that man being Tiger Woods, winner of the 26th and 27th Opens to be played there. Considerably less of a surprise would be McIlroy – this year he has finished second at the Masters, eighth at the USPGA Championship and tied fifth at the US Open – but he hasn’t won a major since he collected the claret Jug at Hoylake in 2014. This would be a very good week to rectify that.
This coming week sees the staging of the 150th Open Championship. While McIlroy performed strongly in those three majors, it wasn’t enough to get him home in any of them. Scottie Scheffler (Masters champion) and Justin Thomas (USPGA winner) will both fancy their chances of becoming the ninth different American to win at the Home of Golf, a list which includes Bobby Jones and Sam Snead as well as Jack Nicklaus and Woods twice each. The winner of the US Open last month was, of course, Matt Fitzpatrick, whose game at Brookline was wonderfully precise. He became only the third man in the past 30 years to win a major on the back of hitting 17 of 18 greens in the final round in regulation, following Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters and Brooks Koepka at the 2017 US Open. (In arguably the greatest final round of all, Johnny Miller hit all 18 greens when shooting the first-ever 63 in a major on his way to winning the 1973 US Open.)
Given the weather forecast, it wouldn’t be a shock to see someone shoot 63. The forecast is for generally good weather and only light wind. In 2015, the last time the Open was played over the Old Course, the wind got so severe at times that play had to be suspended because on some greens the balls kept oscillating. As Jordan Spieth, the 2017 champion, said last week: “Even a nice 10- to 15-mile an hour wind would show something. It doesn’t look like we are going to get any rain so I think the defence could be how fast it plays.” Spieth is generally quoted at around 20-1 to win with most bookmakers. McIlroy is the 10-1 favourite. Second favourite, at 14-1, is Jon Rahm, last year’s US Open champion. The Spaniard makes no secret that the late Seve Ballesteros is a hugely inspirational figure to him. Seve won the Open at St Andrews in 1984 at the age of 27. Rahm goes there next week…aged 27. Destino?
Away from the golf course, one imagines that with the great and good of the game all in attendance to celebrate this special anniversary of golf’s oldest championship – and after Greg Norman being denied an invitation to R&A functions that he would ordinarily have been expecting to attend as a past Open champion – there will be at least the odd meeting to attempt to reach some kind of co-ordinated strategy regarding how the game should react to the recent emergence of the Saudi-backed golf series. When Willie Park won the first Open, in 1860, the live debate in the game was over the respective merits of the feathery golf ball versus the upstart gutta percha model. Today the LIV debate is about the potentially distorting effects of tournaments which offer $4 million first prizes. It’s progress, I guess.
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