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The Open Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 12 Jul 2021

AND so, finally, after two years Shane Lowry must return the Claret Jug as the 149th Open Championship gets under way at Royal St George’s in Kent. The tournament was, of course, cancelled 12 month ago because of the pandemic and the great news is that it is being treated as a test event, with 32,000 spectators per day on site. It means that there is going to be a very special atmosphere for what is the final men's major of the year.

Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm, winners of US PGA and US Open, will all be in the field of 156 of the world’s best players. Sadly, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama has been forced to withdraw after contracting Covid-19, one of 10 players forced out because of the pandemic - and that number may rise further before Thursday. 

We will return to Rahm later, but it is also worth noting that some very high-profile golfers will be making their debuts - and a number of them have a realistic chance of winning.

Already a major champion following his stunning success at the 2020 PGA Championship, Colin Morikawa has rapidly established himself among the game’s elite. After turning professional in 2019, the American enjoyed almost immediate success. After consecutive top-four finishes at the 3M Open and John Deere Classic, he claimed his maiden PGA Tour title on just his sixth start at the Barracuda Championship. Morikawa would go on to string together 22 consecutive made cuts from the start of his pro career, a streak bettered only by Tiger Woods (25).

Aged 23, he then moved to new heights in August 2020 by triumphing in the PGA Championship at Harding Park, gaining a five-year exemption into The Open in the process. Another high-profile victory at the WGC-Workday Championship in February lifted him to fourth in the Official Golf World Rankings and he performed strongly in defence of his PGA crown at Kiawah Island, tying for eighth.

Shane Lowry

Viktor Hovland’s exemption was officially confirmed after the PGA Championship due to his position inside the top 50 of the World Rankings, but it has been clear for some time that he would gain entry via that route. He is now ranked 12th in the world and has been a permanent fixture inside the top 15 in 2021. The Norwegian was originally eligible to play in The 148th Open at Royal Portrush following his victory in the 2018 U.S. Amateur. However, he subsequently forfeited his entry by turning professional in June 2019, a week after finishing 12th in the US Open.

Like Morikawa, who made his first pro start in the same month, Hovland immediately looked at home on the PGA Tour. After tying for 54th on his maiden start, he recorded top-16 placings in each of his next eight events, including finishes of fourth at the Wyndham Championship and second at the Albertsons Boise Open. Two PGA Tour titles followed in 2020, at the Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Golf Classic, while Hovland already has two seconds and two thirds to his name this year and won the recent BMW International Open.

Francesco Molinari won The Open for Italy at Carnoustie back in 2018. And there could be another Italian on the leaderboard this week. Guido Migliozzi is a two-time winner on the European Tour and the 24-year-old is enjoying a purple patch just now. A hugely talented golfer, he was the first player to be signed by pop star Niall Horan’s Modest Golf management company. And Horan knew what he was doing. Migliozzi finished second at the British Masters and Made in Himmerland and then headed across the Atlantic to play in the US Open at Torrey Pines, where he finished in a tie for fourth and followed it with a tie for 13th at the Travelers Championship. 

Victor Perez, the Frenchman who is based in Dundee, will already have one eye on the 150th Open at St Andrews in 2022, with the biggest win of his career to date having been sealed at the Old Course in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. That breakthrough triumph in September 2019, together with a runner-up finish at the Turkish Airlines Open six weeks later, helped Perez earn a maiden Open appearance at Royal St George's in 2021 - one he has had to wait almost two years for - through his position on the Race to Dubai.

He continued to move up the rankings in 2020, aided by further second-placed finishes at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA and the BMW PGA Championship. Now firmly placed inside the world’s top 50, Perez has continued to show his talent in 2021, placing inside the top 10 at the Players Championship before a fourth-placed finish in the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play.

Royal St George's

Scottie Scheffler’s consistency on the PGA Tour is best summed up by the fact he occupies 22nd in the latest Official Golf World Rankings despite the fact he is still waiting for a maiden title. Although his most impressive wins to date have come on the Korn Ferry Tour, that appears unlikely to remain the case for too long. He was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year for the 2019-20 season, after a campaign highlighted by six top-five finishes. They included a tie for fourth at the US PGA Championship..

Scheffler, who also carded a 59 at the Northern Trust, is exempt for this year’s Open after finishing in the top 10 of last season’s FedExCup points list. He was seventh at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, fifth at the WGC-Workday Championship, second in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and eighth at the PGA Championship.

There will be huge anticipation surrounding Rahm’s appearance. He made his major breakthrough with victory in the US Open at Torrey Pines, just two weeks after failing a Covid-19 test while leading The Memorial by six shots after 54 holes. He had no option but to head home and self-isolate but turned up at Torrey Pines in magnificent form and continued it at the Scottish Open. Rahm claims that he has finally got his fiery temper under control - it remains to be seen whether that is true. And his patience is bound to be tried at Royal St George’s. Bad bounces are part and parcel of links golf. But Rahm has every shot in the book and will not be concerned if the wind blows.

Matt Fitzpatrick

If we get four days of glorious weather then just about anybody in the field could win. But links golf isn’t like that. The chances are that we will see some challenging conditions, and that reduces the possible winners. If you are looking for potential home winners, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood will be worth keeping an eye on - as will defending champion Lowry. 

When the tournament was last played here, Darren Clarke held off the challenge of Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Despite his victory in the US PGA, 51-year-old Mickelson is unlikely to figure. Johnson, on the other hand, has had a couple of chances to win the world’s oldest major and will feel that he has a genuine opportunity here. His recent form has been patchy at best but that means he will come in under the radar. 

Who knows which Rory McIlroy is going to turn up? It is safe to assume that if conditions are as testing as they were back in 2011 then McIlroy will not contend. And it is now seven years since he won the most recent of his four majors.  

South African golf is on a high just now and Louis Oosthuizen, Garrick Higgo and Christiaan Bezuidenhout are all worth a flutter. Oosthuizen won The Open in 2010 and it is scarcely believable that he hasn’t added to that total. He has shown some great form this year and loves links golf. Higgo is turning out to be a serial winner, with two victories on the European Tour and a maiden PGA Tour success in 2021, while Bezuidenhout is one of the best ball strikers in the game.

Louis Oosthuizen

Tournament Winners

The Open was won in 2015 by Zach Johnson, in 2016 by Henrik Stenson, in 2017 by Jordan Spieth, in 2018 by Francesco Molinari, and in 2019 by Shane Lowry.

The Course

Royal St George’s has hosted The Open on 14 occasions, the first in 1894. It is a traditional links course, featuring plenty of dunes, thick rough and the deepest bunker in championship golf, on the fourth hole. It measures 7,204 yards.

Form Guide

Louis Oosthuizen finished second at both the US PGA Championship and US Open and is in the best form of his life. And he has learned how to putt. A genuine contender. Jon Rahm won the US Open, less than two weeks after failing a Covid-19 test while leading The Memorial by six shots and has 11 top-10 finishes to his credit on the PGA Tour this season. Will not be concerned if the wind blows and continued his love affair with links golf at the Scottish Open. Matthew Fitzpatrick has spent most of 2021 on the PGA Tour and had a chance to win the Genesis before eventually finishing in a tie for fifth. He also finished tied fourth at the RBC Heritage before losing a playoff at the Scottish Open on Sunday. From Yorkshire, Fitzpatrick revels in tough conditions. Viktor Hovland is turning out to be a serial winner. In only his second appearance on the European Tour, he won in Germany recently. And he reels off top-10 finishes for fun on the PGA Tour. A superstar, and a certain future major champion.

To Win: 

Louis Oosthuizen. It’s time for that elusive second major

Each Way: 

Jon Rahm. Confidence is sky high

Each Way: 

Viktor Hovland. Will win a major

Five to Follow:

Louis Oosthuizen. Playing quite beautifully

Jon Rahm. Enjoys links golf

Viktor Hovland. Does anybody have a better temperament?

Jordan Spieth. Would love to add to his major tally

Matthew Fitzpatrick. Has the game to win here

Five Outsiders to Watch:

Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Hugely talented South African

Victor Perez. Lives in Dundee so he is used to the wind

Robert MacIntyre. Has the game to cope with the wind

Garrick Higgo. Will end up winning a bucketload of titles around the world

Lucas Herbert. Now a two-time winner on the European Tour

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