The oldest and arguably most prestigious golf tournament. At the Home of Golf. For the 150th time. When the history of sport is retold, this coming week at St. Andrews will stand tall.
As the golfing world assembles for the final major of 2022, the Old Course in the historic county of Fife on the East coast of Scotland has double celebrations in minds, as it also hosts the Open for the 30th time.
Since its inaugural edition in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, the Open has become for many the biggest golf tournament on the globe. With its new place now at the end of the major season and with a $14 million purse, this year’s edition has that little bit more magic about it.
As two of the most famous winners at St. Andrews gathered on the iconic Swilcan Bridge earlier this week and would concur, the 150th Open could be one special week.
The unpredictable Open
The Open Championship continues to live up to its moniker and remains the most unpredictable major in golf.
Though the likes of Tiger Woods and indeed Jack Nicklaus have their names engraved on the Claret Jug, other previous winners of the past in Australian Kel Nagle (1960), American Tony Lema (1964) and 2003 and 2004 back-to-back winners Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton were far from household names to win the trophy.
With that in mind and considering there has been a different winner in each of the last seven majors, the only man to have won two in the space of the last three seasons has been this year’s defending champion, Collin Morikawa.
The Open remains the hardest to call of the ‘big four’. Links golf has the devilish knack of bringing a potential of all four seasons in one day, whilst even in clement conditions like we saw at a rather toasty Sandwich 12 months back, the wind is almost guaranteed to blow.
So will 2022 see one of the game’s best as the Champion Golfer of the Year, or, will there be yet another debutante name on the major roll of honour?
British hopes robust
Even for a home major, it is hard to remember a time more recently when there were stronger hopes of a British winner of an Open. With just four different winners from home shores since 1990, this year’s edition has not just one, but two genuine contenders who could claim the Claret Jug as front-runners.
One name on that short list is Rory McIlroy. Could all the pieces finally be falling into place at St. Andrews?
The Northern Irishman is for many the favourite to win a second Open here, after his victory at Hoylake eight years ago. It was in that year in 2014 the 33-year-old went on to seal a rare back-to-back major double by also claiming the PGA Championship at Valhalla – his last major win.
The current season has been one of huge improvement for McIlroy, with Brad Faxon having ironed out the creases in his game. Though still not able to break his eight-year major drought, the Briton has finished T8 or better in all three this year at Augusta (runner up behind Scottie Scheffler), Southern Hills and Brookline respectively, also impressing in retaining his own Canadian Open title last month.
McIlroy’s record at the Open between 2010 and 2018 is one of the best, with four T5s or better to go with his Hoylake win. More recently though, his last two Opens saw a missed cut and a T46 at Sandwich last time out. Ahead of his second visit to St. Andrews for an Open, McIlroy finished third in 2010 but was still some eight strokes behind runaway winner Louis Oosthuizen.
It should also be noted in that year that after carding a record-equalling 63 on the Thursday to lead the field, he then went on to shoot a polar opposite 80 on the Friday to barely stay in red figures. Nevertheless, McIlroy has the game to come out on top in Fife this week; having now climbed back to world number two in the world, will the 150th Open finally see his fifth major crowning?
This week’s other big name in the frame from a British point of view is of course, US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. Having kept his cool to win a first major by a single stroke at Brookline last month, the Sheffield native does not retain the best record in his home tournament having missed the cut in two of six Open appearances as a pro.
Indeed, his best result was a T20 at Royal Portrush three years ago. On a firmer, more punishing type of course to the ones he is now well honed on the PGA Tour, the Englishman has struggled to get to grips on the links in the past.
However, Fitzpatrick has already proved omens are no myth and was the leading amateur in 2013 at Muirfield on his Open debut, coming home T44 – the same year he won the US Amateur title in Boston.
Nine years on, seeking to do what McIlroy achieved and also win successive majors, Fitzy should be a focal figure on Sunday.
Schauffele pick of US field
After a difficult few seasons, Xander Schauffele is well and truly back in the groove. Beginning his season by winning Olympic Gold in Tokyo, Schauffele has now won three PGA Tour titles since April, capped by a composed performance at Renaissance last week to win the Genesis Scottish Open.
Wasting little time in carrying his form over from the US, Schauffele had won the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland only days before and his showing in North Berwick was of little surprise.
Having taken the Zurich Classic as a duo and then the Travelers only a fortnight ago also, the San Diego native is on fire on the fairways and greens and now, with his first victory on links under his belt The fancy for many to win his first major this weekend and with a tied runner-up spot in 2018 also, Schauffele could be an unstoppable force.
The charge from his compatriots as ever remains envigored. Morikawa as defending champion will not give up his Claret Jug without a fight, but world number one and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler will be lurking to pounce, even if his struggles and a missed cut at Renaissance were concerning.
Justin Thomas, similarly, is yet to find Open golf within his wheelhouse, so perhaps Jordan Spieth could enjoy a strong week? Runner-up to Morikawa at Royal St. Georges and a winner at Royal Birkdale five years back, if his game holds together the Texan could be in the mix come Sunday.
Sam Burns also could be a contender after his stellar season and showed glimpses of form at the Scottish Open, as likely could Will Zalatoris as he once more looks to finally get over the line, just as Fitzpatrick broke his own duck on US soil in Massachusetts.
Or could St. Andrews just be Patrick Cantlay‘s moment of destiny? Steadily rebuilding towards his best of last season with a joint win with Schauffele, Cantlay has the short game to tame the Scottish links but there lingers a lack of consistency and too great a proclivity for bogeys – doubles and triples.
Tiger returns in wide open field
One of the bigger headline makers ahead of the Open will be Tiger Woods wh0 makes his major return after missing the US Open last month. But can the 15-time major winner again make his presence felt at St. Andrews?
On the same Old Course that the Californian professes as his favourite, Woods has been a winner here twice before in 2000 and 2005 where on both occasions he romped to the Claret Jug by eight and five-stroke victories respectively.
This however, is not the Tiger of old plainly and his chances will rely on the how healthy he can stay across the week, hoping also for milder conditions than those we saw at an unseasonably cool Masters and PGA Championship where he broke down.
Forced to bat away rumours of retirement, Woods will have to manage his every asset on the course this week and even then has his work cut out to feature. However, those who have already written off his chances could yet be left to look rather silly.
Elsewhere, Jon Rahm has been tipped by many as a future Open winner and follow in the footsteps of the the great Seve Ballesteros and is again one of the favourites for glory. Might 2022 be his year, or could the Euro challenge also come from Viktor Hovland?
Still somewhat misfiring, the Norwegian was another name to feature early last week at Renaissance and continues to find transition a stretch but of all four majors, the Open still appears his best shot.
Shane Lowry will carry hopes from across the Irish Sea as a winner at Royal Portrush, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann has been a consistent presence on the leaderboard in all four majors this term, whilst in Players’ winner Cam Smith, Australia could have another Open winner alongside the likes of Peter Thomson, Ian Baker-Finch and current public enemy number one, Greg Norman – a two-time winner himself.
Finally, a longer shot could be Zach Johnson as the last Open winner at St. Andrews, with fellow Claret Jug recipient in Fife, Louis Oosthuizen eager to also get back to his best after making the switch to LIVGolf, but lacking any real form.
As the landscape of golf threatens to have its very foundations shifted with back-biting and in-fighting, major week for a short time at least sees the game and not its politics take centre stage. For a change, this Open should leave plenty to talk about on the course.
Quite simply, there is nothing quite like an Open Championship and in its 150th edition, at its very roots, it should not disappoint.
The 150th Open Championship begins on Thursday at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Fife.
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