10 Players Who Will Contend at The Open
Shane Lowry has possessed the Claret Jug for two years, but finally, this summer, the Open Championship returns with the 149th playing of golf's oldest major.
But who is likely to contend at Royal St George's in July? Golfshake's Liam Moore has identified ten players he expects to make a run for glory and potentially etch their name as the Champion Golfer of 2021.
Two successive phenomenal displays of golf secures Jon Rahm’s name in this list and if he were to show even an inkling of what he’s capable of, he must go down as favourite for the championship. It may have taken the Spaniard 20 attempts to earn his first major title, but having knocked on the door continuously, another is surely not too far away.
He is first on the PGA Tour for scoring average (69.902), drives the ball well over 300 yards (307.6) and his approach play is nothing short of admirable, finding 71.04% of greens this season and ranking fifth throughout the circuit. It’s difficult to determine a weakness in his game but if there is anything that could hinder a consecutive major romp then it’s his bunker play, where the 26-year-old salvages just over 50% of sand saves. If Rahm is fit and firing come July, then this year’s Open Championship could see a dominant victor.
The U.S. Open was the best major display we have seen from Rory McIlroy since the 2018 Masters – where he effectively finished fifth in a two-horse race. What has plagued McIlroy recently are those dreadful opening round performances. However, a battling 70 kept the Northern Irishman afloat and ready to pounce as the tournament progressed. Sure, he didn’t go on to take the title on the 10-year anniversary of his first, but it was evident signs of improvement.
McIlroy is also a winner on Tour this year (Wells Fargo Championship) and he looks to be a completely different player to the one that Pete Cowen inherited only a few months prior. Although he didn’t come away with a fifth major title at Torrey Pines, his performance is trending in the correct direction. He found 52% of fairways (4% better than the average) and he gained +4.29 strokes from his short game. What once may have been viewed as a liability, has quickly transitioned into a reliable department of his game. It’s now been seven years since a major victory for McIlroy, and it feels like something special is brewing in his team’s camp.
Brooks Koepka is the epitome of a big-game player. The man absolutely lives and breathes major championship golf and whenever one rolls round, it’s unfathomable to disregard this titan of important moments. Major after major, Koepka will be in contention and this one is missing from his list. We all know he’s going to be up there come Sunday because, well, that’s just what he does. If he isn’t winning then you can bet he’s contending.
He did miss the cut at The Masters, which shocked the entire golfing community. However, if we discuss his finishes in both major and standard events, it’s clear he has his priorities in the right place. Since the aforementioned Masters, the American has played in four tournaments: The AT&T Byron Nelson; PGA Championship; Palmetto Championship and the U.S. Open. He missed the cut in both the standard tour events and that surprised everyone – especially at the Palmetto Championship, where the field quality was seriously weakened. However, still in the midst of recovering from a knee operation, Koepka made Phil Mickelson earn his PGA Championship by taking him to the very last hole before flirting with a late charge during the closing stages of the U.S. Open. If the 31-year-old is playing championship golf, it’s become almost inevitable that he will be near the summit of the leaderboard.
The ‘twilight stage’ of a sporting career is a commonly used phrase. Whereas in more physically demanding sports, golf stars enjoy an elongated journey into retirement. At the age of 43, Paul Casey certainly belongs to that category – and what better way to celebrate your 44th birthday as a first time major champion? That’s the potential outcome for Casey, who turns 44 only three days after the conclusion of this year’s Open Championship. And boy, has he remained patient.
On 12 occasions, Casey has breached the top 10 of a major championship. He finished second at last year’s PGA Championship and overall, his performances from the last three years has indicated that he has the capability to secure one of golf’s grandest prizes. Yet another top 10 from the U.S. Open will give the Englishman confidence. Playing in front of a home crowd? That could be the difference for the major-less (for now) golfer.
Matthew Fitzpatrick has had a brilliant season in America. He’s played in the majority of the events held on Tour and, generally, has found himself stateside. The only thing missing from his breakthrough – of sorts – season is that vital win. Now, he’s not the only Englishman yet to taste victory on American soil – Tommy Fleetwood is in a similar boat. Five top 10 finishes this season result in promising reading but one of these advantageous positions needs to be converted into a win.
He is yet to miss a cut in the three majors this season, with a T23 finish at the PGA Championship his best thus far. Yes, he has only placed in the top 10 at majors on one occasion – 2016 Masters where he finished T7 – but encouraging performances throughout the season indicate that a win may not be too far away. Having spent a large proportion of his time across the pond, a return to England could be a good change of environment and one that may enable him to compete for this year’s Open Championship.
If we were living in a simulator, with someone controlling our every move, then I think they’ve gone a little too far with Louis Oosthuizen. For the sixth time, the South African finished runner-up in majors, this time at the U.S. Open. Moreover, if it weren’t for such a peerless finale to Rahm’s round, Oosthuizen would surely be holding his second major trophy. Oosthuizen has been in fine form throughout the majors this season, finishing: T26, T2 and 2nd. You can’t get any closer than the final two finishes! Surely another is on the horizon, surely?
There isn’t a major championship that the 38-year-old has not finished runner-up in. What will give him confidence, however, is the fact that the one major title that he has secured, is The Open. A comfortable victory, besting Lee Westwood by seven shots, I’m not too sure that he’ll have such an easy ride for this year’s instalment. Nevertheless, the grind continues and, in contemporary times, is there a grindier golfer than Oosthuizen?
The future looks limitless for Guido Migliozzi. Making his major debut at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, after making the cut celebrations were in order. The Italian tipped his hat to his culture by ordering a pizza and eating it on site! A well-deserved pizza, may I add. Migliozzi has demonstrated his ability throughout Europe all season, so it was great to see him showcase his talent to a global audience.
Prior to the U.S. Open, the 24-year-old had secured successive runner-up finishes in the British Masters and the Made in Denmark mixed event. It’s a shame he couldn’t complete a hat-trick of second places, but sadly he had to settle for T4 in his maiden major appearance(!). He averages safely over 300 yards from the tee (305.53) but his accuracy of 45% could cause a problem or two in Kent. What will boost him is his approach play, locating 71.05% of greens which ranks 11th on the European Tour. Big things are expected from the Italian and July’s event could be the start of a glittering golfing career.
It’s safe to say that Collin Morikawa has rapidly adjusted to the elite of golf. In only his third major start, he had secured the PGA Championship. He’s won a World Golf Championship and has four PGA Tour victories in total. A riveting Sunday display at the U.S. Open enabled the American to flirt with contention but, the short stick let him down. Again. If Morikawa can work on his putting, then there isn’t a single element of his game that could be criticised heavily. However, we cannot look past his struggles on the green. It simply needs to improve.
The 24-year-old will be making his Open debut in July and I’m sure the English fans are excited to see what the next generation of golf can bring to the country. While we have mentioned his wayward putting tendencies, he literally has everything else in order. He ranks first for GiR (71.85%) on the PGA Tour, ranks 9th for driving accuracy (69.76%) and 7th for scoring average (69.931). Morikawa is a man who is tipped for infinite glory throughout his career and a second major title could be secured at this year’s Open Championship.
The rise of Garrick Higgo is nothing short of inspiring. Within two years, the South African went from member of the Sunshine Tour to PGA Tour champion. If we also include the two European Tour titles that he currently holds, then we have some player. At just 22 years old, Higgo looks certain to have a marvellous career and the earlier he can secure his first major, the better. Featuring in just his second major at the U.S. Open, he failed to make the cut after such a cool display the week prior. I wouldn’t read too much into this though – that’s just golf.
Averaging over 300 yards off the tee is a phenomenal achievement but it usually comes at a cost. While his rankings for all aspects of his game result in promising reading, he only finds 44.86% of fairways – which is nearly 5% less than the Tour average. Everything else, however, is in check. Over the years, as he continues to hone these skills, we will surely see his name near the top of every tournament golf has to offer.
Harris English has been a member of the PGA Tour since 2012, but he has failed to introduce himself to golf’s elite. Yes, he’s picked up three victories – most noticeable is the Sentry Tournament of Champions this year – but when the big events come around, he’s typically away from the hotseat. However, finishing third at this year’s U.S. Open means that he has now finished in the top 10 at successive U.S. Opens. Furthermore, his T21 finish at this year’s Masters is the highest he’s achieved at Augusta. He is trending upwards.
English is a grafter and extremely hard working. He rarely misses a cut. In fact, of the 13 events that he has featured in this calendar year, only three times has he failed to make it into the weekend. A T64 finish at the PGA Championship was less than ideal, but he followed that up with a third-place finish at the U.S. Open. While he may be a longer shot than the others on this list, his performances this season warrant his name to be included within the conversation.
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
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