The Open 2021: Preview

The final men’s major championship of the season is upon us with Shane Lowry set to defend the Claret Jug on the links of Royal St. George’s in Kent, England, for the 149th Open Championship. Here’s our preview.

The tournament will be played between July 15-18. Lowry, who won in 2019 at Royal Portrush, has held on to the famous trophy for two years after the 2020 tournament was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Who are the favourites?

Lowry is finding form again with a top-10 finish at the Players in March and a fourth place at the PGA in May. His deft touch around the greens could put him into contention again. Australian Min Woo Lee won the Scottish Open last week, defeating Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Detry in a play-off. All three secured their place at The Open and will fancy their chances.

US Open champion Jon Rahm was just two shots back at the Scottish Open which saw him replaced as world number one by Dustin Johnson. But the Spaniard is in great form and could well be the player to beat. Just one more shot back was Players champion Justin Thomas who’s finding good form. Xander Schauffele, T10 at the Scottish, and in the top 10 at the Masters and US Open, could break his major duck.

Rory McIlroy missed the cut in Scotland but has shown form this season in patches, winning Wells Fargo on the PGA Tour in May and finishing T7 at the US Open. Phil Mickelson, winner of the US PGA, will be in the field, but Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama has been forced to withdraw after contracting Covid-19, one of 10 players so far forced out because of the pandemic.

Don’t be surprised to see serial contenders Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka on the first page of the leaderboard, but they’ll have to match accuracy with distance off the tee. 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen finished second at both the US PGA and US Open and is in brilliant form. Tommy Fleetwood, runner-up to Lowry at Portrush in 2019, is also among the fancied players, and for an outside bet Francesco Molinari, Viktor Hovland and Christiaan Bezuidenhout are worth a flutter.

Royal St George’s

Known colloquially as ‘Sandwich’, this will be the 15th time this esteemed course has hosted The Open. Only St. Andrews, Prestwick, and Muirfield have hosted it more times. The two most recent were in 2011 when Darren Clarke won and in 2003 when Ben Curtis triumphed.

The par-70 layout stretches out to 7,206 yards, which is not particularly long by modern day standards. But in the expected dry and sunny conditions this course is more about accurate ball placement and touch on and around the greens. Though wet conditions in the lead up to the tournament means it won’t get really quick probably until the weekend.

The par 3s will be testing with two of them playing around 240 yards. Pin placements could make these even more difficult. For the par 4s and 5s, golfers will have to deal with a lot of undulations on the fairways and will hope to get a good bounce or two. And the bunkers are true hazards and are to be avoided. St. George’s features the deepest bunker on The Open rota at the 4th hole. Only two of the par 4s play over 460 yards so accuracy with wedges or short irons is key to making birdies.

Players will need to hit fairways, avoid the punishing typical links rough and deal with uneven lies. They must be able to scramble around the greens and avoid three-putts on the undulating surfaces many of which have sloping run offs.

Will there be fans?

Cancelled 12 month ago because of the pandemic, the great news is that the 2021 Open is being treated as a test event, with 32,000 spectators per day on site.

What is the tournament format?

It’s a stroke-play event, with a starting field of 156 players with the cut made after 36 holes.

What is the total purse and how much does the winner get?

The R&A announced that this year’s prize fund will total $11.5 million, an increase from the $10.5 million from two years ago at Royal Portrush. This year’s winner will pocket $2.070 million.

What’s the record score?

The 72-hole record is held by Henrik Stenson after his epic Sunday battle with Phil Mickelson in 2016 at Royal Troon. Stenson took just 264 strokes (20-under) to claim his lone major title. His record also equalled the scoring record for all major championships.

Who has the most wins?

Harry Vardon won this event a record six times, the last of which was in 1914. Four golfers have won it five times including Peter Thomson and Tom Watson. Five golfers have won it four times including Walter Hagen. Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo are among the golfers to record three victories.

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