Who Could Upset the Favourites at The Open
Ah, Open season. Is there anything better? Difficult courses; thick rough; torrential weather and, of course, excellent golf. The best players in the world will fly into England where they’ll all congregate in Sandwich for one of the toughest challenges of their life. Are you ready? We certainly are.
If we’re looking at those who can contend, our thoughts immediately divert to a certain Spaniard. Undoubtedly, Jon Rahm will head to Kent as the overwhelming favourite. However, this isn’t football where one of two teams can win; with 156 players in the field, it only takes a couple of bad holes to remove the world number one from the equation.
We all love an underdog. So, with that in mind, we look at eight players who might not necessarily be considered as probable victors of the Claret Jug this year but hold the potential to steal the show.
How could we not include the reigning champion of this rich competition? Shane Lowry has every right to secure back-to-back Open Championships and after such a peerless display in 2019, he has a proven track record that he has what it takes. That win enabled the Irishman to join an elite club of those who had won the oldest professional tournament by a whopping six strokes: Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller – only Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods have recorded a larger margin of victory.
Lowry finished T4 at the PGA Championship and then followed that up with another top 10 at the Memorial Tournament. A disaster of a final round saw him lose his way in the U.S. Open and, as a result, finish in a tie for 65th - ouch. His most recent outing, the Irish Open, saw a respectable T23 finish which should inject confidence heading to England. Lowry will be looking to join Padraig Harrington as the only Irishman to win multiple Open Championships.
This might be an emotional inclusion but he has come so close on so many occasions - he has what it takes, he does. If Tommy Fleetwood can get the job done once, then surely more will follow, surely? He’s too good not to. He finished runner-up to Lowry in 2019 and although he was beaten comfortably, he demonstrated that he has the game to compete in the harshest of conditions. If we also consider that he’s finished second at the U.S. Open then yes, Fleetwood’s inclusion is justified.
Unusually, his major form this season has been uncharacteristic. While he has never traditionally performed emphatically at The Masters, a T46 finish is well below his demanding standards. He would then miss the cut at the PGA Championship before another sub-par performance at the U.S. Open – finishing 14 shots behind eventual winner Rahm. However, home territory and endless support could just be enough to spark the Fleetwood we all know back into action.
Stranger things have happened. While this inclusion may be a tad controversial, he would not be considered if it were not for his riveting 36-hole display at Torrey Pines. Richard Bland has disclosed to the media that he has worked tirelessly on his game and with his first European Tour victory and 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open, it’s evident that’s true. While his exploits on the course have been impressive of late, his immensely likeable personality supplements his passion and drive.
Obviously, there won’t be many more opportunities for Bland to carve his name in golfing folklore but The Open Championship provides the perfect environment for the unthinkable to happen. Driving accuracy will be mandatory if he were to succeed and, based off of previous outings, the big stick is something that truly shines for the 48-year-old. A win here would mark one of the most emotional moments of his life – as well as in the sport itself.
On the PGA Tour, Sam Burns has had a fantastic season. He has secured his maiden Tour title; finished in the top 10 on six occasions; broke into the world’s top 50 and sits one place outside of the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings – not bad for a 24-year-old. He has never featured in an Open Championship and the last time he made it into the weekend at a major was in 2019 – the PGA Championship where he finished T29.
Unfortunately, after a fortnight of scintillating golf, Burns had to withdraw from the 2021 PGA Championship, citing a back injury. He did not qualify for The Masters and therefore, this will be his first ‘full’ major of the season – providing he doesn’t withdraw again or miss the cut, similarly to the U.S. Open. In fact, completion in Kent would result in his first major finish since 2019. Of course, the occasion might get to the American, but if he can produce his form from a few months ago, then not many men can match his exceptional level.
Long gone are the days of angry Matt Wallace – can you remember his temper on the green at the British Masters? Since that incident in 2019 – has it really been that long? – he has composed himself and matured both as a player and a human. He is starting to understand that to succeed in the game of golf, one must be patient – his time will come. On that note, how soon will it materialise? Hopefully, Open week!
Away from a T3 finish at the PGA Championship, Wallace has rarely threatened those around him in major championship golf. His last appearance at The Open was in 2019, as there was no event last year. As we previously discussed, 2019 Wallace is a lot different to the new and improved 2021 edition. A poor shot may have influenced a breakdown in performance and thus, removal from contention. He is calmer now and can accept disappointment easier. A career-best performance will be needed but no-one needs reminding of the special things that only happen during Open Championship weeks.
Wallace, Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick are all generational talents who compete on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour but they all share one thing in common: they are yet to win on American soil. It’s difficult, demanding and sometimes, downright impossible. So, it must have stung a little when Garrick Higgo flew out to America and won his second event. Above all, that’s a testament to how good the South African really is. Two years ago he was competing on the Sunshine Tour; he’s now a multiple winner on both premium tours. Impressive.
From a major perspective, the 22-year-old has only qualified for two – PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. Both from this season and both have produced sub-standard performances. Nevertheless, how often do players perform in their debut major season? Rarely. However, Higgo has a secret weapon up his sleeve: Gary Player. The legend of the game frequently visits the prospering talent to analyse course set-ups and devise a game strategy. With Player by his side, the golfing world is certainly Higgo’s oyster.
Some players hit it long while a few possess an unbelievable short game. There will be players who are incredible from bunkers and those who are dialled-in from 100 yards or less. Then there are players like Corey Conners who quietly plod along and have all aspects of their game firing on all cylinders. The Canadian is a classy player who doesn’t attract too much attention away from the course. His aim is simple: play golf and win tournaments. And isn’t he great at that?
The irony of that previous sentence is that he missed the Scottish Open cut. However, this is golf and it is undeniably difficult – he’s allowed an off-day. While he remains winless this season, he has recorded seven top 10 finishes, which puts him in a tie for third across the entirety of the PGA Tour. If you’re looking for consistent golf then please look no further than Conners. He missed the cut during his sole appearance at The Open but back-to-back top 10 finishes at The Masters would demonstrate that he has grown since then. Keep an eye out for him across the week, he might just surprise a few.
In Open Championship history, only one Italian has shown he has the willingness, determination and ability to win golf’s most sacred event: Francesco Molinari. As he blitzed his way through Carnoustie on that final day, he was the only man to finish under-par from the final four groupings during that special finale. Italian golf seemed to falter when he dropped down the world rankings after that infamous Masters meltdown. However, in Guido Migliozzi, Italy have a new prospect.
Migliozzi has enjoyed an excellent season of golf. He has climbed into the world’s top 75; introduced himself to an American audience and, who could forget that stupendous performance at the U.S. Open that secured his position of T4? He narrowly lost to Richard Bland during the British Masters purely because it was simply Bland’s time. Too many things went for him while the Italian’s luck seemed to be at an all-time low during the final round at The Belfry. The aforementioned U.S. Open was his first ever major performance and what a splendid display it truly was. Migliozzi is around for the long-haul so be prepared to hear his name crop up more and more frequently as his career progresses.
There you have eight outside chances of Open glory. Naturally, the world’s top 30 in the world rankings will deservedly be tipped for grandeur but there are so many fantastic talents that surround them. The gap between the world’s very best and the other professionals continues to close and The Open Championship incessantly produces fairytale stories – will one of these eight see theirs play out in Kent?
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