It is back to the big-time for DFS this week as we have reached the fourth and final major of the year, the 148th version of The Open Championship, held this year at the iconic Royal Portush in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. This is just the second time this event has been held outside of England and Scotland, the previous one taking place right here, 61 years ago in 1951.
Founded in 1888, and designed by the venerable designer Harry S. Colt, the current course plays at 7,337 yards for its Par 72, and the Dunluce Links course (named for castle ruins that are visible on the North Atlantic cliffside just off the course) was built into the existing sand dune landscape to help lay the foundation for some dramatic elevation changes and fairway slopes.
It is a prototypical Links course, and by all accounts it plays how a Links will- but one thing that separates Royal Portrush from other traditional Links is the major lack of the deep pot bunkers that characterize many other courses in UK.
Indeed, there isn’t much sand at all throughout the 18 holes, and there is little water to worry about other than curving along the coastline. Most of the hazards are presented in the form of deep tangly rough that is made up of both grass and heather. Dustin Johnson on Golf Channel said of that on Monday that it is “very penal. And will cause lost strokes if you find it”.
Other difficulties will come from the angles of approaches into the small Bentgrass greens, which if not perfectly landed, could be subjected to losing traction on the tricky slopes and run-offs, so as ever on a Links course, hitting those classy bump-and-runs from around the green will be key.
In short, this will be an Open and a golf course that will reward excellent tee-to-green control and will penalize those who are unable to keep their ball in play.
There is rain in the forecast, and that might help to slow down what are devilish green complexes. Holding approaches on these rock-hard surfaces, especially with a fierce wind blowing is a daunting task, but there should be scores to be had.
There are plenty of storylines that abound this week, many of them centered on what could be a triumphant homecoming for Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who hails from an hour down the road in Holywood. Or perhaps the older pair who hail from Portrush- Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke- can conjure up some of the old magic on their home course.
In some interesting statistical tidbits, 7 of the last 10 Open winners were aged 35 or over at the time of their triumph, and that suggests that experience in tackling Links golf is key, while 9 of the last 10 champions had a previous top-10 in an Open Championship to their credit. This is one of the most prestigious trophies in all of sport, and the cream generally rises to the top here- with names like Spieth, Stenson, Molinari, McIlroy, Rose, Kuchar, Mickleson, Leishman, Schauffele, Fowler and Garcia all producing winning or runner-up finishes in the last five editions. It’s rare for a player who is not of elite class to get their hands on the Claret Jug, with eight of the last ten winners coming into the tournament ranked in the OWGR top 50. That’s no coincidence: Major Championship golf brings out the best in talent.
Must-Have #1: Patrick Cantlay
Already one of the Tours classiest performers in his young career, this two-time PGA Tour winner surely is on the verge of a major breakthrough- as a T12 last year in the Open, a T9 earlier this season at the Masters, a T3 at the PGA Championship and a T21 at the U.S. Open a few weeks back surely portend.
He possesses an incredible ten Top-15 finishes in his fourteen starts this season, with a formline since the Masters reading 15-21-1-3-3-9.
When looking to the challenges of Royal Portush, Cantlay seems to check many boxes for success at this Links course. Over the last 24 rounds he ranks 1st in the field in Strokes Gained: Total, 1st in Bogey Avoidance, 2nd in Scrambling, 2nd in Birdie or Better %, 4th in Ball Striking, and 12th in SG: Approach.
This former world #1 Amateur and UCLA Bruin seems poised to break into the scene in a major way, and this could be the weekend he captures his first major championship.
Must-Have #2: Henrik Stenson
When looking at all the qualities that generally make up a Claret Jug winner- this Swedish National usually stands at the forefront of the pack. Indeed, he is a former champion at this event- when he bested Phil Mickleson down the stretch in 2016 at Royal Troon to claim his first major championship. But this man is also a former FedEx Cup Champion and an Olympic Silver Medalist who has spent over 300 weeks ranked in the World Golf Rankings Top 10.
He possesses six Top 15 Open Championship finishes in his career, and has made 10 straight cuts at this event dating back to 2007. He also comes into this tournament playing his best golf of the season- carding a 4th place finish at the Scottish Open last week, 9th at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the RBC Canadian Open in his last three starts, all the while making nine straight cuts dating back to the Players Championship.
He is producing these results due to some stellar all-around golf, as evidenced by him ranking 1st in the field in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds, 5th in Good Drives, 5th in Fairways Gained, 6th in Bogey Avoidance, 18th in Ball Striking, and 29th in SG: Around the Green. If he keeps up his solid play in these categories, he looks poised for another high finish off the coast of Northern Ireland this week.
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