It doesn’t feel quite right putting the final major championship of the year to bed in the middle of July. Yet here we are, left to twiddle our thumbs for a ridiculously long time – 262 days to be precise – until the first shot is fired at the 2020 Masters.
Or maybe not. As compelling as this year’s majors have been, and none more so than Shane Lowry’s brilliant six-shot victory on home soil at Royal Portrush on Sunday, there is still plenty of life left in the season.
Not everyone is a fan of the new schedule that condenses the majors into a four-month run from the Masters in April to The Open in July, particularly the regular tour events that fall between each of them and have seen their fields start to diminish in quality and depth as the stars opt to rest in the narrow windows that intervene.
Throw an Olympic golf tournament back into the mix in August 2020 and the domino effect that will have on that month’s World Golf Championship-FedEx St Jude Invitational (this year’s event takes place this week) and the squeeze is on.
For now, though, there are important play-off series beckoning on both sides of the Atlantic and plenty of incentive for the four major champions and those they outlasted to prove they have what it takes over the next two months of the season.
Lowry’s victory at Portrush over the weekend was a magnificent display: first of free-wheeling confidence to go with the flow and ride the waves of emotion being created by a vociferous crowd that helped the Irishman shoot a course-record 63 on the Saturday; and then of the disciplined, controlled golf necessary to get the job done in the worst conditions of the week the following day.
The manner of Lowry’s victory will stand to the new world number 17, who has been catapulted into the business end of the FedEx Cup play-off mix and is heading for the series finale, September’s Tour Championship, a live contender for the $10m bonus payout that goes to the golfer who tops that tournament’s standings.
The play-offs start on August 8 at The Northern Trust in Jersey City and events at Portrush this past week and the three preceding majors are bound to provide plenty of impetus.
Expect Rory McIlroy (9/1 to win the the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational), now a full five years without a major, to be gunning for victory this autumn as he bids for some sort of reward for an excellent year that unravelled with that opening-round 79 at The Open. If his excellent second-round 65 told us anything it was that the Northern Irishman is determined to right the wrongs of that horrible first round in Portrush and we can expect him to pick up where he left off in the Friday twilight when he pitches up in Memphis this week for the WGC-FedEx St Jude.
So too, world number one Brooks Koepka (8/1).
He may have racked up another PGA Championship victory this year after winning at Bethpage Black in May, but as long as he keeps perceiving slights against him and senses a lack of appreciation of his all-round game, the American will be spitting fire to prove the doubters wrong. Four consecutive bogeys at the start of his final round in Portrush put paid to his expected last-day charge at Portrush yet he found a way to finish tied for fourth and that is a dangerous commodity as we head towards the FedEx Play-Offs.