How on earth do you follow that sporting Sunday? The unenviable task of taking up the slack in this breathless summer has fallen to the Open. Perhaps it’s as well, then, that the 148th edition just happens to be one of the most eagerly anticipated in all that time.
Over the next four days, in front of the biggest crowd for any Open staged outside St Andrews, the best event in the game will usher in a new chapter with the introduction of a wonderful tint of green.
Scotland will always be the home of golf but there is a passion, respect and sheer exuberance for the game in Ireland, north and south, that is utterly intoxicating. We all know the reasons why it has not been staged here in the north for 68 years but it is a grievous wrong that has now been blessedly put right.
General view of the 13th hole at Royal Portrush during a practice round before The Open
The first ball has not been struck but already the R&A are planning the sequel. ‘There will be more Opens at Portrush for many years to come,’ beamed the R&A’s chief executive Martin Slumbers. ‘I don’t think we’ve ever been to a venue before where so many people have stopped us and said, “Thanks for coming”.’
From the moment misty-eyed local boy Darren Clarke gets the action underway at 6.30am who knows how this one is going to unfold, other than it will be noisy and nobody will shout: ‘Get in the hole.’
At some majors, like the US PGA Championship in May, you could see the winner from a fair distance. This one is much harder to call.
Adding the classic Open flavours of luck and unpredictability is the fact we are promised all sorts of weather over the next four days, from strengthening breezes at times to vicious showers and, yes, welcome stretches of sunshine thrown into the mix.
If the weather forecast for Thursday proves accurate it does not sound good news for Rory McIlroy and his home army of followers, with the winds due to pick up shortly after the start of his round. But it is only a forecast.
Rory McIlroy will receive plenty of support from his army of fans in his native Northern Ireland
Portrush is typically a course where the long hitters might not deploy the driver more than two or three times, but the fairways are green this year rather than brown and the muscle men might be tempted to open their shoulders more than is the norm. In recent majors, the Americans have established a pattern of domination that is rapidly reaching the unprecedented stage since Europe became a force with the arrival of Seve Ballesteros in the late 1970s.
Nine of the last 10 majors have fallen to golfers from the US and while the Open is the one where they have enjoyed the least success, they would certainly be happy to see a continuation of the trend of winners over the last six years — in turn, these have come from America, Europe, America, Europe, America, Europe.
If this go on, they will complete the first clean sweep of all four majors by Americans in the same season since 1982.
Leading the American challenge, of course, is the man who has done much of the damage — Brooks Koepka, with his 1-2-1-2 run in the last four majors and four victories from the last nine he has played.
American star Brooks Koepka (right) has won four of the last nine majors he has played in
Sir Nick Faldo is on record as saying we have entered the Koepka era, but he will need to do something about his mediocre Open record before being considered the complete golfer.
Koepka led after the first round in 2017 but he has reached the age of 29 without a single top-five finish. Aiding him this time on his first visit to Ireland will be the fact he can call on plenty of local knowledge in the shape of his caddie Ricky Elliott, who is Portrush born and bred.
If the run is to continue, though, it might be one of the quiet Americans who gets their hands on the Claret Jug — Xander Schauffele or Patrick Cantlay, perhaps.
After all the excitement at the first major, what has followed has been a total anti-climax regarding the man who won the Masters. It looked as if the condensed majors schedule would help Tiger Woods but, in fact, it has done him few favours — and nothing about his preparation here inspires confidence.
Still, it is some consolation to go into the season’s final major knowing it will still be a great year regardless of the result. Winning a green jacket does that for a man.
BETTING TIPS FOR THE OPEN 2019
THREE TO WIN
Gone about his business, as ever, with no fuss or fanfare. All the tools to become one of the few golfers to complete a successful Open defence.
Mediocre Open record with not a single top-five finish — but how can you discount a man who has gone 1-2-1-2 in the last four majors?
The type of golfer who wins Opens. Under the radar, straight off the tee, equable temperament — and a heck of a good putter.
THREE EACH-WAY BETS
Nothing to shout from the rooftops regarding his recent record, but the gifted 23-year-old Chinese has done enough to suggest that won’t last.
Flushing it on the range on Wednesday and in his element when he’s on a links. Ready to build on his sixth-place showing at Carnoustie last year.
If not next year’s Ryder Cup captain (Padraig Harrington), why not the one after? Chances are that one of them, at least, will go well.
Who is the European who can break the trend? Of the two most obvious suspects, there is an awful weight on Rory’s shoulders, while Justin Rose did not sound like a man convinced he had got his Open preparations right in this year of change in the majors.
By contrast, Jon Rahm could hardly be in more confident mood having just won one Irish Open, two years after collecting another down the road from here at Portstewart. This should also be fertile territory for the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willett and Eddie Pepperell. But the best prospect of all might be the man who has just had to part with the Claret Jug — Francesco Molinari.
These have been lean times for the golfers from outside of Europe and America when it comes to winning majors, but the two sweet swingers, Adam Scott from Australia and South African Louis Oosthuizen will be the quiet fancy of many.
At 6.30am on Thursday at each Open you will see the small grandstand at the first about half-full and a few friends and relatives of the players involved huddled along the fairway. At this one, you just know it will radically different for Clarke’s big moment, and the start of a whole new ball game for the oldest event in golf.
No promises on a finish anything like the cricket or the tennis last Sunday. But this Open does hold the promise of the unforgettable.
THURSDAY’S OPEN TEE-TIMES
6.35am: D Clarke, *J Sugrue, C Hoffman (US).
6.46: E Grillo (Arg), Sung Kang (Kor), *T Thurloway.
6.57: A Sullivan, C Bezuidenhout (SA), A Levy (F).
7.08: C Kim (US), Z Lombard (SA), *B Wu (US).
7.19: R Sterne (SA), R Langasque (F), *M Schmid (G).
7.30: P Harrington, M Fitzpatrick, A Putnam (US).
7.41: B Watson (US), E Pepperell, R Cabrera Bello (Sp).
7.52: P Mickelson (US), S Lowry, B Grace (SA).
8.03: A Noren (Swe), M Lorenzo-Vera (F), S Locke.
8.14: W Simpson (US), S Garcia (Sp), CT Pan (Tpe).
8.25: R Palmer (US), A Pavan (It), D Frittelli (SA).
8.36: K Stanley (US), R MacIntyre, A Johnston.
8.47: M Korhonen (Fin), O Wilson, *C Knipes.
9.03: I Poulter, Sunjae Im (Kor), K Aphibarnrat (Tha).
9.14: H Stenson (Swe), X Schauffele (US), G McDowell.
9.25: Li Haotong (Chn), R Knox, B Wiesberger (Au).
9.36: J Kokrak (US), C Syme, A Connelly (Can).
9.47: Z Johnson (US), D Duval (US), C Conners (Can).
9.58: F Molinari (It), A Scott (A), B DeChambeau (US).
10.09: R McIlroy, P Casey, G Woodland (US).
10.20: H Matsuyama (Jpn), R Fowler (US), K Kisner (US).
10.31: J Furyk (US), Si Woo Kim (Kor), J Walker (US).
10.42: L List (US), A Bjork (Swe), P Waring.
10.53: S Imahara (Jpn), N Lashley (US), B Hebert (Fra).
11.04: M Horikawa (Jpn), C Shinkwin, G Porteous.
11.15: P Meesawat (Tha), M Baldwin, J Senior.
11.36: T Lehman (US), J Niemann (Chl), MA Jimenez (Sp).
11.47: Byeong Hun An (Kor), J Campillo (Sp), C Wood.
11.58: J Dahmen (US), A Arnaus (Sp), D Papadatos (Aus).
12.09pm: S Cink (US), R Sabbatini (Svk), Innchoon Hwang (Kor).
12.20: E Van Rooyen (SA), K Kitayama (US), J McLeod (A).
12.31: R Fox (NZ), S Norris (SA), Dongkyu Jang (Kor).
12.42: T Hatton, K Mitchell (US), T Pieters (Bel).
12.53: T Fleetwood, J Thomas (US), T Olesen (Den).
1.04: B Koepka (US), L Oosthuizen (SA), S Sharma (Ind).
1.15: B Horschel (US), A Wise (US), J Janewattananond (Tha).
1.26: J Spieth (US), M Leishman (A), D Willett.
1.37: C Smith (A), A Hadwin (Can), D Lipsky (US).
1.48: P Lawrie, C Reavie (US), J Harding (SA).
2.04: *T Kanaya (Jpn), T Lewis, B Stone (SA).
2.15: L Glover (US), J Luiten (Hol), N Bertasio (It).
2.26: E Els (SA), JB Holmes (US), A Ancer (Mex).
2.37: B Snedeker (US), L Westwood, B Harman (US).
2.48: T Finau (US), L Bjerregaard (Den), J Rose.
2.59: D Johnson (US), J Day (A), K Bradley (US).
3.10: T Woods (US), M Wallace, P Reed (US).
3.21: J Rahm (Sp), M Kuchar (US), P Cantlay (US).
3.32: K Streelman (US), D Redman (US), R Rock.
3.43: A Otaegui (Sp), Y Ikeda (Jpn), I Benitez (Mex).
3.54: P Kizzire (US), Sang Hyun Park (Kor), Y Inamori (Jpn).
4.05: Y Fujimoto (Jpn), Doyeob Mun (Kor), A Wilson.
4.16: G Charoenkul (Tha), Y Asaji (Jpn), A Turner
GB & Ireland unless stated. All times BST — *denotes amateur
Have something to say? Leave a comment: