With football’s European Championship behind us, our attention turns to the Kent coast for the 149th edition of The Open Championship starting this Thursday (July 15th). The venue for this year is Royal St. George’s, located on the Kent coast in the sleepy town of Sandwich.
The Open was the only major that didn’t take place last year due to the pandemic so Shane Lowry will be defending champion having won at Royal Portrush in 2019 in what seems a lifetime ago.
The golf course itself is a true classical Links test that flanks the Kent coastline that will be very much open to the elements and having checked the weather forecast for the week, scoring will be very difficult with wind speeds in the mid-20s expected every day.
The Open was last held here in 2011 when Irishman Darren Clarke lifted the Claret jug with a score of five-under with Sandwich considered to be one of the sternest tests on the Open rota. Of the last five Opens held here only one winner – Greg Norman – managed to finish in double digits under par.
Greg Norman's final hole in a stunning 64 that clinched his second Claret Jug 🏆🏆
— The Open (@TheOpen) April 30, 2021
What sort of golfer are we looking for this week to win the Open Championship? Looking back at previous winners at this venue, in particular Norman, Lyle and Clarke, they were all strong off the tee and were all able to control their ball flight well. With the wind blowing all week, driving the ball low will be a key skill set required.
Having also seen pictures on Twitter of the course set up, the rough looks extremely penal and allied to this are the strategically placed fairway bunkers. Players finding these will be chopping out sideways hence I don’t think a Bryson DeChambeau approach of all guns blazing will work around here.
The course is a Par 70 featuring only two par fives, the seventh which will play the easiest hole on the course and the 14th which will play harder as there is an out of bounds fence running the whole way down the right side of the hole. I’m sure Dustin Johnson will remember this fence as it was here in 2011 that his dreams of winning disappeared when he shanked his second shot straight over the fence.
Tournament Favourite is Spain’s Jon Rahm coming off his win in the US Open last month in San Diego. Winning this was compensation for Rahm having led the Memorial Tournament two weeks prior to the US Open by six shots before being disqualified due to Covid protocols. Last week Rahm finished T4 in Scotland having looked like he was going to run away with the event after the first 27 holes. On the downside he has a poor Open record.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 8, 2021
Rory McIlroy had every chance in the US Open but let the chance slip away early on the back nine on the Sunday. Since then, 59th in the Irish Open and missed cut in the Scottish doesn’t inspire me with confidence. His body language in Scotland looked particularly poor.
Brooks Koepka seems to be over his knee problems and only seems interested in majors so must be respected every time he plays in one. Dustin Johnson finished second here in 2011 behind Darren Clarke and has two other top 10 finishes in the Open, however current is form is not great.
Justin Thomas has been relatively quiet since winning the Players Championship in March however warmed up with a very encouraging performance in Scotland last week. If Thomas can get that low drawing stinger to work this week, he will be a contender for sure.
Completing the top order of betting is Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele. Spieth has been in great form all year finishing outside the top 20 only twice since the Waste Phoenix Tournament way back in February. With one Open victory to his name Spieth should give a good account but I think his driving may find him out at some stage. Schauffele was T3 in the Masters, T7 in the US Open and runner up in the 2018 Open but hasn’t won since January 2019.
Westwood is my first pick to win the Open. Six top 10s in the Open is a decent record for anyone to have and will he take inspiration from his great mate Darren Clarke winning here in 2011.
Westwood was playing great back in March when finishing second at the Players and Arnold Palmer Invitational but has since cooled off a bit. However, last week in Scotland, Westwood was leading until stumbling midway through round three. Westwood is one of the best drivers in the game and with time running out he will take heart having seen Phil Mickelson win a major at the age of 51 in May earlier this year.
Having achieved most things in the game winning a major would cap off a tremendous career that no one would begrudge him.
Rickie Fowler is an interesting contender here this week. Fowler has finished in the top six of the Open three times previously including a T5 here at St George’s in 2011.
Fowler was suffering a dreadful run of form last year running into this year until turning the corner in Texas back in April. At the root of his problems was his eyesight but this seems to be sorted now and T8 in USPGA in May confirmed he was on his way back. Following this was a T11 in the Memorial in June.
The Open has always been considered Fowlers best chance to win a major and playing in the wind has always seemingly heightened his chances. In 2019, at Royal Portrush, Fowler finished T6 where again the wind blew hard. Having only missed one Open cut in 10 appearances in the Open I think we are assured of a decent run.
Finally, I am willing to take a chance on young Australian Lucas Herbert.
Herbert is only 25 but has quickly risen to 55th in the official world rankings. Two weeks ago, Herbert won the Irish Open and last week finished T4 in Scotland. Not many players will be coming into the Open in such great form like Herbert and at three figures I am happy to take a chance.
Herbert won his first European Tour event in Dubai in early 2020, an event that was completed in very blustery conditions, much like I think we will see in Kent this week. T3 in the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open in 2018 and T7 in the Dunhill Links in the same year highlight his liking to Links golf. Australians have a decent record in the Open and I can see Herbert following in the footsteps of Greg Norman in winning here.