It barely seems a short time ago that I sat down to write the first Major Championship preview of the year leading into the Masters in April, however here we are just over three months later and we are already on the eve of the final Major of 2019, the Open Championship.
With Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka [again!] and less predictably Gary Woodland, victorious at Augusta, Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach respectively all eyes now turn to Royal Portrush for the final chapter of the year’s Major calendar.
Situated on the North Antrim Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland Royal Portrush is a par 71 measuring to 7337 yards. The course, which has only hosted the Open on one previous occasion in 1951, is a true links test with sloping fairways, Open style bunkers and undulating greens.
Like all links courses its defence is the wind, however, even if the wind doesn’t blow too hard, [which it is not forecast to do] thick rough and tough approaches to hugely contoured greens will still keep the players on their toes.
So with all of the game’s big names making the trip to Northern Ireland let’s take a look at some of the leading contenders, starting with home favourite and market leader Rory McIlroy.
For those unaware Rory grew up in Holywood, approximately 60 miles away from Portrush and when only 16 he shot 61 here in the Northern Ireland amateur to set a course record, which still stands.
The simple question then with Rory this week is will his local knowledge and the rapturous crowd support he will receive help him to raise his game, or will the extra pressure of the home support weigh him down?
The honest answer of course is we cannot be certain, however on balance I’m thinking more the latter and I am happy to pass on Rory at single-figure odds.
Equally at single-figure odds I am not overly keen on the chances of Brooks Koepka this week, as the world No 1 admitted to being mentally burnt out after Pebble Beach and my suspicion is we may well have seen the best of him for 2019.
Instead, with an undergolfed Tiger not having produced anything of real note since Augusta and with Dustin Johnson off the boil since his second place at the PGA Championship, I’m going to scroll further down the betting for our headline pick and start our team off with Matt Kuchar (28/1).
Kooch has not endeared himself to too many golf fans over the past twelve months off the course, however with two wins to his name already this season, on the course, he is having a career year.
Smiley Matt did nothing wrong when coming agonizingly close to winning the Claret Jug in 2017 at Birkdale, and it was only the heroics of Spieth that denied him.
Two years later he arrives in Portrush on the back of an ideal 20th place warm up in Scotland and he is fancied to make a bold bid for his first major this week.
Two other big names near the top of the betting I am keen to have onside are Henrik Stenson (25/1)and Hideki Matsuyama(33/1). Stenson the 2016 Open Champion, finished ninth at Pebble Beach in the US Open and fourth last week in Scotland, so he is clearly trending in the right direction. Any improvement with the putter from his effort in Scotland, allied to his stellar ball striking, will surely see him contend.
Similarly, Matsuyama has been an absolute model of consistency this season with no missed cuts and arriving here on the back of yet another top ten this could just be the week he puts it all together.
Next up for me this week is Webb Simpson (60/1). The American is another player who has produced some really solid stuff of late and his tidy all-round game should be ideal for this week’s challenge and I can see the former US Open Champion having a big week.
Finally, I shall wrap things up with an each-way play at huge odds on Andrea Pavan(300/1). This two time European Tour winner has shown a liking to links courses over his career and having finished fourth in Scotland at the weekend he has the potential to make the frame at massive odds.
*All odds correct at time of posting