Experts roundtable: Four key questions going into The Open Championship
July 15, 2019
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- July 15, 2019
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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- The Open Championship is in Northern Ireland for just the second time in tournament history, and the first time since 1951. With the revised schedule, it’s now the last major of the season with the FedExCup Playoffs looming just a few weeks away. Our PGATOUR.COM experts weigh in on some of the burning questions going into Royal Portrush.
1. Tiger Woods has played 10 competitive rounds since winning the Masters. Will he benefit from the rest or struggle due to rust?
MIKE McALLISTER (Managing Editor): His previous month-off approach didn’t work out (MC at the PGA Championship). But I expect him to reach the weekend this time. Gotta think all those low stingers will pay off at Royal Portrush, but by how much, tough to say. Despite his 1 a.m. ET wake-up calls at home, I don’t have him in my top five favorites.
ROB BOLTON (Fantasy Insider): Because I’m an optimist to a fault, he’ll continue to benefit from the learning process of feeling how much recovery time he requires to stay fresh. But he’s just not there yet. On an aside, the further we get from the Masters, the more we’re reminded of the value of experience in that tournament.
SEAN MARTIN (Senior Editor): I think winning the Masters took more out of him than we known, and his limited playing schedule is proof of that. Contending at a major is going to be difficult after such a long layoff.
BEN EVERILL (Staff Writer): I don’t think rust will be the killer for Woods. I think his experience with links golf will keep him hanging around contention for most of the week -- provided he doesn’t get hit by the wrong side of the draw. With Woods these days it is about being physically and mentally strong enough in the key moments. And I think he can do that this week, but I just have the feeling he will fall just short of some others. Somewhere between T5 and T15.
ANDREW TURSKY (Equipment Insider): If the month off has allowed Tiger's body time to refresh, and he feels physically capable of competing for four straight days of major championship golf, then it was the right call. His missed cut at Bethpage, in my opinion, had more to do with the course setup putting such a premium on driving the ball far and straight -- not Tiger's strongest suit -- than any sort of rust. Given that Open Championship golf rewards trajectory control, creativity around the greens and course management -- all aspects in which Tiger excels -- I like his chances to finish inside the top 15 this week.
CAMERON MORFIT (Staff Writer): The Open is so much about hitting it solid, controlling your trajectory and simply finding a way. All of those things can get just a tiny bit rusty with disuse, but then again, it's Tiger. I have no idea which Woods shows up, but yes, I'd like to have seen him get a few more competitive rounds in.
HELEN ROSS (Contributor): While I totally understand the decision to take time off, Tiger has played just three times since his phenomenal Masters win in April with a MC at the PGA, tie for ninth at the Memorial and a T12 at the U.S. Open. Granted, he’s mentally tough but I have to wonder – and it’s been 13 years since his last Open title.
2. Brooks Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, is from Portrush and knows the course as well as anyone. How much is that an advantage?
McALLISTER: I think it could be a huge advantage, given that most players – including the aforementioned Woods – have never seen this course. Hey, we know Koepka (T2, 1, 2 in majors this year) will be in the mix. If it just benefits him by a stroke or two, that could mean the difference between winning his second major of the year and another runner-up finish.
BOLTON: As I mused in the Power Rankings, it’s probably unfair, but it’d have a greater impact on someone who, say, was still chasing his first victory in a major. Still, Elliott hits precisely zero shots, so this comes off as a familiarly forced narrative that gives too much credit to a caddie.
MARTIN: Royal Portrush has undergone some fairly sizable changes since Elliott started caddying for Koepka. It was enough to mitigate the advantage. Plus, it comes down to hitting the shots. I don’t think it will provide too much advantage. That’s OK, though. Koepka doesn’t need it.
EVERILL: Koepka should be the favorite to win this week even if girlfriend Jena Sims caddies in her ESPYS’ outfit. But with the benefit of a clutch bagman like Elliott, who knows the place inside out, Koepka is an option you simply cannot ignore when looking for a winner. You’d have to think the only thing stopping Koepka from being in the top-10 at the conclusion of the week would be weather-related. I’ll say Elliott brings at least a two shot advantage … and Koepka is already the best in the world.
TURSKY: Koepka's biggest advantages are that he's the best golfer in the world and he's supremely confident contending for majors. Having local knowledge on the bag, when most other competitors are going in relatively blind, is just another ace in his hand.
MORFIT: To your point, Mike, look how well Tom Lehman, 60, did at the recent 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities, which he designed and knew better than anyone. Course knowledge counts for a lot, and you have to give it more weight than usual when no one else has even seen the place.
ROSS: We all know that Koepka comes up big in the big events. He’s calculating and confident, and it’s not like he hasn’t played well at Open Championships with two top-10s in his last three starts. Elliott’s course knowledge could be the missing link.
3. Does what Rory McIlroy did at Royal Portrush at age 16 (shooting 61 on a course that has since undergone changes) have any impact on how he plays this week?Rory McIlroy has some good memories of Royal Portrush. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
McALLISTER: Not really. It’s a nice storyline but that was 14 years ago. What Rory did at THE PLAYERS Championship in March and the RBC Canadian Open in June will have a bigger impact. He’s back in winning form.
BOLTON: The score has zero relevance, whereas his experience on the course matters. Even with changes to it, the intangibles of understanding the wind at Portrush and general comfort on the property are invaluable assets.
MARTIN: I think the pressure will come from the local crowds and trying to perform for them. He’s not going to stay in his hometown of Holywood in part because he wants this to feel like just any other tournament. But that will be impossible. This is the first sell-out in Open history and you can bet a large portion of those fans will be behind McIlroy.
EVERILL: Yes it will have an impact -- a negative one. McIlroy is already the player with the most pressure on his shoulders this week. The 61 is just another angle for the media and fans to focus on for this hometown hero. The weight of expectation for McIlroy to play well this week must be crushing. Now this doesn’t mean he can’t win. His form this season has proven he’s ready to do so in a major again… but if he actually pulls it off it will be extra impressive.
TURSKY: Positive memories for a golfer are always a plus and having some local knowledge will certainly help. I can't imagine he'll be thinking much about the 61 from 14 years ago, though ... aside from when asked about it by the media, of course.
MORFIT: The main thing Rory has to overcome this week isn't how much time has passed since that 61, or since his last major win, but outside expectations and demands on his time. It's easy to want it too much in this situation.
ROSS: I don’t think so. Sure, he’ll have some confidence and course knowledge others might not have. But I am more impressed with his performance this year – two wins, one of which came at THE PLAYERS Championship, one runner-up and eight other top 10s. That will be the key!
4. Last month’s U.S. Open went to a first-time major winner. If that happens again this week, who’s your pick, and why?
McALLISTER: I’ll be shocked if I’m the only one who tabs Jon Rahm. He won the Irish Open just two weeks ago and should draw energy from the Irish galleries. “I’m going into The Open Championship with a lot of confidence,” he said after winning at Lahinch. “It's the only major I haven't had a good performance at and I want to. It's a special one.” It could be even more special on Sunday.
BOLTON: It’s not a coincidence that Matt Kuchar is the highest-rated non-winner of a major in my Power Rankings (at No. 5). The Open almost always rewards talent of a certain age (he’s 41) and it loves a low ball flight (he’s T149 in apex height). He came so close just two years ago and he’s atop the FedExCup standings.
MARTIN: Jon Rahm. It’s not just that he’s coming off a victory in Ireland. He’s finished in the top 3 in his last three starts, including a T3 at the U.S. Open. Rahm has finished in the top 10 in 10 of his 15 starts this year.
EVERILL: Marc Leishman. I know everyone is rolling their eyes thinking this is Aussie bias, but Leishman has three top-6 finishes in his Open Championship career and is one of the better wind players in the world. His creativity in shaping shots in tough conditions is brilliant. In saying that, the forecast doesn’t seem to show big winds at this stage. And Leishman loves the firm and fast stuff so the rain could affect him.
TURSKY: I'm going with Matt Kuchar. In Kuchar's last three major appearances he's finished T12, T8 and T16. In his last two Open Championship appearances he's finished second and T9, and he has two PGA TOUR victories in 2019. Plus, he has to win one eventually, right?
MORFIT: Xander Schauffele has major game and also seems to have the clutch gene. I'll take the X Man.
ROSS: I have to agree with Cam. Xander Schauffele has five top-10s in his 10 major championship appearances – including a tie for second at last year’s Open Championship. He’s going to break through and this could be the week.