It’s a slightly strange scenario to be playing the last Major of the year in mid-July, owing to golf’s new, reshuffled calendar, but there is enormous anticipation surrounding the 148th Open Championship, which starts on Thursday.
Royal Portrush is an extremely good golf course which is in mint condition and certainly deserves to be hosting The Open again for the first time since 1951.
And it is great to be back in Northern Ireland, which has provided three Major winners in the last decade.
Rory McIlroy heads that list and all eyes will be on the man from County Down this week as he aims to lift the Claret Jug for a second time – and end his five-year wait for a fifth Major – at a venue where he set the course record of 61 when still a 16-year-old.
He has a huge chance. I spoke to him on Sunday and he was very confident and very happy with his game. He has had a great run this year, winning twice, although he has almost flattered to deceive – he has played so well he could have won six or seven times.
Readers will know I am a massive fan of Rory. He can’t believe he is getting to compete in an Open in Northern Ireland, and there is nothing like playing in front of a home crowd. Without doubt it would be the greatest win of his career until the day he dies.
Playing at home is emotional and that can go either way. I always found it difficult because of the added pressure to win, but I am no Rory McIlroy and he is used to having that level of expectation whenever he turns up to an event. This occasion may inspire him.
Rahm the megastar
The man whose chances I like best, however, is Jon Rahm. The Spaniard enjoys it in these parts, having won the Irish Open twice in three years – the most recent, at Lahinch a fortnight ago, in phenomenal fashion with a 64 followed by a 62.
From the first day I saw Rahm play I thought he was a megastar. He has every component needed to get to the very top and, at just 24, he is now only missing a Major title. This Open could be his time.
With a happy knack of peaking at the biggest events, Brooks Koepka has to be a contender. The American world No1, who has two wins and two runner-up finishes at the last four Majors, is class personified and not afraid of anything.
The fact that he began his career in Europe can also help him. There is a world of difference between playing links golf in America and in the British Isles. US golfers are obviously very good but when they travel they learn so much.
Schauffele, Tiger and Molinari
My last man to watch is Koepka’s countryman Xander Schauffele. He has a fantastic game with lovely, repetitive swing. He looked special when winning the 2017 Tour Championship and has since been working his way to the top of world golf.
Of the others, I’ve been impressed with Henrik Stenson but am not quite sure about his putting. There seem to be a few doubts around Tiger Woods’s current form.
We haven’t seen the best of defending champion Francesco Molinari lately and Portrush may suit a longer hitter. And Dustin Johnson is a hell of a player but a bit of an enigma; we have to wait and see how he gets on.
As for what I’d like to see happen, it has to be Rory. He has four Majors already and is too good a player to have waited so long for another.
Between the Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon we have been treated to some incredible sporting stories in recent days, but McIlroy winning The Open in his back yard would be right up there.
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