Big names fancied at the Open


Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy will be aiming to emerge from the woods in the Open. – Reuters

THE season’s fourth and final men’s Major championship will be staged in England this week.

And like the three that have already gone by this year, the British Open is expected to deliver big-time at Royal St George’s Golf Club in the county of Kent.

The hosting of the 149th Open championship – the 14th at Royal St George’s since debuting there in 1894 – is being tipped to add its own chapter of high-octane tensions and intense drama to this season’s Major finale.

Indeed, after their heroics, the winners on the Major circuit so far this year, Hideki Matsuyama (Masters), Phil Mickelson (PGA Championship) and Jon Rahm (US Open) all go into the Open with more than a little support and serious ambitions of leaving the south-east coast of England with the famous Claret Jug in tow.

The spotlight, however, will almost surely be trained on world number one and tournament favourite Rahm, when things get underway in earnest on Thursday.

Even then, Rahm will not be alone as the only man to beat.

There is a handful or so of the world’s best players who will have just as much determination to triumph at one of England’s more celebrated golf courses and in an event that sits among world sports’ most illustrious.

All of Rory McIlroy, world number two Dustin Johnson, four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth with three of his own, and Justin Thomas will be at Royal St George’s, more than keen on adding the Major titles they already have in the trophy cabinet.

Xander Schauffele, in particular, stands out as one player who could make this his breakthrough Major victory.

This lad from San Diego, California might not have made the cut at the PGA Championship in May, but he finished with top-10s in the other two Majors this term – third at the Masters and seventh at the US Open.

He has six top-10s in the 10 Majors stretching back to the 2019 Masters. For good measure four of those were a runner-up spot, two ties for third and a finish in fifth.

The discussion about Schauffele being “built for these big tournaments” has been going on for some time now. And the overwhelming theme is that it is a matter of time when he will win one, rather than if he will.

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But Rahm, 26, poses the biggest threat to the field at Royal St George’s. He was in fine fettle even before he won the US Open title last month.

That victory, which helped him to the number one ranking in the world, will have merely added to the confidence of a player who many say will go on to win many more Majors.

Indeed, the Open this week looks primed for the Spaniard. Not only does he come into it brimming with confidence, he also has the game, and skills set, to deliver for those backing him.

McIlroy and Johnson, on paper, appear to be the next best placed players to win the Open.

Hoping to win a fifth major, McIlroy is coming off a 7th-place finish at the US Open and is receiving heaps of support ahead of making his way to Royal St George’s.

The 32-year-old Northern Irishman has had some decent performances in recent Majors but they are no near like how he won the Open and PGA Championship in 2014. McIlroy also won the 2011 US Open and the PGA Championship the following year.

If he were to go on to lift the Claret Jug next Sunday, there will not be too many folks out there who would be surprised, or in his corner for that matter.

The same could be said about Johnson. The American has all the tools to win a second Major and he might well be driven by trying to regain the world’s number one ranking, among other things.

He was knocked off the perch at the US Open but would retake it with victory this week, or a good enough finish better than Rahm.

Koepka is another player who will quietly fancy his chances. He always seems to play well at the big tournaments. He has four Majors to credit and in all, has won eight times on the PGA Tour.

The 31-year-old from Florida should be much fitter this week, one would think, than he was after knee surgery and finished runner-up at the PGA Championship and fourth at the US Open. He missed the cut at the Masters.

Spieth and Thomas both command much respect in the game and will be aiming to contend next Sunday. It is certainly not beyond them to win the Open (Spieth has done it before), and if they do, it could make things a lot more interesting.

Royal St George’s itself will generate a lot of interest. When this club hosted its first Open championship in 1894, it was also the first time the Open was held outside of Scotland, which had been its home since its inception in 1860.

Past champions here include two of the game’s greats – Harry Vardon and Walter Hagen, who both won it twice at this venue. More recently Sandy Lyle (1985), Greg Norman (1993) and Darren Clarke (2011) have prevailed in the Open at Royal St George’s.

So, will this fabled golf club give us a new champion amidst all the hype that it promises?

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