They say to save the best for last, and many people would agree that The Open is the best major, and indeed it is the last one of the year.
It is also the first time that the event has been held in Northern Ireland for 68 years – a rather fitting turn for the oldest major, and of course, that means the spotlight will be one Rory McIlroy, the 2014 Open Champion and perennial contender for this event/ Oh, and did I tell you that he holds the old course record for this venue?
The Course: The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush have undergone changes since the course held the 2012 Irish Open and the 2014 Amateur Championship. The 17th and 18th holes of the old layout were replaced by two new holes, which became the seventh and the eighth on this new course. It also saw the infamous Par 3, nicknamed ‘Calamity’, moved to the 16th. There have been ten bunkers and five new greens added to a 7,337 yard par 71.
Widely regarded as one of the world’s best courses, Dunluce is what it says on the tin. Pure links golf. The tee to green test is an extreme one, with both draws and fades required, and of course, fearsome defenses and heavily undulating greens.
The Attributes: The same that are required to win every Open – accuracy. Accuracy off the tee, accuracy in approach play, and a red hot putter all make an Open Champion and Royal Portrush will simply exacerbate these tests. Perhaps the most important attribute of all will be the approach play to the greens, which are extremely undulating. Something to note – the last six winners have ranked first, fourth, second, seventh, fourth and fifth in scrambling.
1) 2 pts each/way Matt Kuchar (40/1 general)
How do you find the typical Open profile winner? You look at the past ones. The majority of the last 10 Open Champions had played the week before, been in the top 6 of an Open before, wasn’t defending the title, had won this season, and also was a winner on the tour this season.
Matt Kuchar would have been on many shortlists even before Betfair’s ten year trends found him, but there’s still lots to like about the American, who has just recently cracked the Open, he was arguably unlucky to finish runner up two years ago and was a fine ninth last year, and he has had an excellent year in the majors, finishing 12th in the Masters, eighth in the USPGA, and 16th in The Open.
It is very encouraging that his best major result this year came at Bethpage Black, a long, suffocating course with just two par fives despite being a Par 70 which played even longer thanks to recent rain.
Kuchar warmed up well with a tie for 20th at the Scottish Open, continuing on from his sixteenth at the US Open at Pebble Beach, all venues that are demanding in length and penal on either side of the green. An excellent player of the wind – he once shot 63 in the first round of the Scottish Open through driving wind and rain – he can cope better with the oncoming gales better than most.
1.5 pts each/way Patrick Cantlay (25/1 general)
Cantlay is at the much younger end of the scale – he’s just 27 years old – but he looks so much like a major winner in waiting that he cannot be avoided anymore.
This will be just his second Open but finishing 12th at Carnoustie last year was a terrific debut for the American and since then he’s only improved. He’s since finished 27th in the USPGA last year, before hitting the lead in the Masters on Sunday, charging late to be beaten by only Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson at the USPGA, and then finishing 21st at the US Open. That might have seemed like a disappointment given his excellent form but even playing that well will give him some sort of chance.
He would be a first-time major winner but the way he closed out his Memorial Tournament win, coming from four back and then posting a brilliant 64, suggests that he can be counted upon to keep his cool when things get tight. His PGA Tour stats – 10th in strokes-gained off-the-tee, 12th in approach shots, and 13th around the green – all show the one outstanding quality in recent open winners, which is a world class scrambling game, and he can make another bold bid for a first major.
3) 1.5 pts each/way Brooks Koepka (11/1 general)
Yes, I know he didn’t play last week. And yes, he’s finished 57th and 65th since the US Open. And yes, I’m including him yet again.
But look at his major record. Since missing the cut at Royal Lytham in 2013 he’s not missed a Major cut, and he’s bagged himself seven top ten finishes, whilst winning four of them. Since the beginning of 2018 his major form reads T11-1-T6-T13-1-T39-1-T2-1-2, and whilst the USPGA and US Opens have been responsible for that, he has two top ten finishes in just six Open starts.
His victories have all come on extremely testing courses where accuracy and scrambling were important and for a man with such power he drives straight and true, and the icing on the cake – his caddy is a one-time Ulster junior champion and Royal Portrush member in the shape of Ricky Elliott.
4) 1 pt each/way Louis Oosthuizen (40/1 general)
Pure and simple, an Open specialist. Firstly, he goes well at Majors – 13 top-25s in the last six years and only two missed cuts, along with being of eight players in the game’s history to finish runner-up at all four majors, and two of them were in playoffs. This is the only one he’s won – he took apart the field at St Andrews in 2010 – and he was a fine seventh at Pebble Beach to boot.
5) 1 pt each/way Henrik Stenson (28/1 general)
Responsible for one of the great finished to an Open when carding a joint record eight-under-par 63 to win at Royal Troon by three shots after an enthralling final-round tussle with Phil Mickelson, birding four of his final five holes to win his first major.
Stenson is a perennial Open contender – he was third in 2008, third in 2010 and runner-up in 2013 – who plays all conditions well, he has recently hit red hot form.
Stenson was ninth at Pebble Beach before he then tied for fourth at the Scottish Open, when he was flawless for 71 of 72 holes before a double bogey at the 17th there, but that was a perfect tuneup otherwise and his stats scream contender. He now leads the field in strokes gained this year and over his last two starts he’s been first and 2nd in driving accuracy. What’s more, he’s already visited Royal Portrush this year before any practice rounds.
6) 1 pt each/way Chez Reavie (125/1 general)
It’s necessary to have one longer priced shot in the portfolio and it’s so hard to get away from Reavie’s recent form. He has had some down years filled with injuries since breaking through as a rookie in 2008 but he’s enjoying a terrific renaissance recently, finishing 14th at the USPGA, 3rd at the US Open, and then inning the Travelers Championship. We can forgive his missed cut at the Rocket Mortgage and take a chance.
7) 1 pt each/way Brandt Snedeker (125/1 general)
Scrambling is the key attribute in Open Champions, and the short game has long been the mainstay of Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker is third for stokes gained this season and, if one forgives his US Open blowout, comes here in good touch; He was fifth at the Travelers Championship, and tied fourth at the Canadian Open behind Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry. He plays links well, is a multiple Pebble Beach winner.