By Norm Elrod
The British Open, also known as the Open Championship, is the third major of the golf season, at least until next year, when the PGA Championship moves to May. An accomplished field is set to tee off Thursday from Carnoustie Golf Links in Angus, Scotland, but the buildup seems a little more relaxed than in the weeks leading up to the Masters and the U.S. Open. Perhaps it’s the hop across the pond, or the mid-July spot on the calendar, when the summer doldrums begin to set in.
Regardless, golf fans should not be fooled; the tournament’s 147th edition is setting up to be as entertaining as always. What are the important storylines going into Carnoustie?
Will Carnoustie be ‘Car-nasty’?
This year’s course is one of the world’s most difficult, even on a good day, and certainly the most difficult of the Open Championship venues. The long and narrow course — a 7,402-yard, par-71 links-style layout — is situated near the coast and exposed to the elements. The wind and rain can be brutal, though this year’s forecast doesn’t call for much of either until possibly the weekend. Lack of precipitation in recent months has left the fairways burned out and particularly fast, reportedly even faster than the greens. And let’s not forget about the bunkers, perfectly placed to swallow up all but the most well-placed shots. Shinnecock Hills was the story at the U.S. Open; will Carnoustie be the story at the Open Championship?
Can Spieth repeat?
Jordan Spieth is the defending champion, winning by the three strokes over Matt Kuchar at Royal Birkdale a year ago. That Sunday in 2017, when he hoisted the Claret Jug, was the last time he won a tournament. Spieth is 0 for 23 since. To be fair, his 17 starts this year have included four top-10 finishes, including a third place at the Masters. He also has five missed cuts, including at the U.S. Open last month. For most golfers, this would amount to a pretty good year. But Jordan Spieth, who won 10 tournaments, including three majors, between 2015 and 2017, isn’t ‘most golfers.’
So what’s the problem? Putting. Spieth’s short game has abandoned him over the last year. And while his long game is fine, he doesn’t have Dustin Johnson or Jon Rahm-type length to make up for inconsistency on the greens. Spieth is a smart golfer, and that still shows up in how he thinks his way around the course. But that’s not enough to overcome Carnoustie. He will have to do better picking up birdies with the putter to have a chance at repeating.
Will Woods and Mickelson make news for the right reasons?
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are planing a $10 million winner-take-all golf spectacle. More details are still pending. Mickelson also putted a moving ball at the U.S. Open out of frustration and patted down some fescue at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. That’s two rule violations, in consecutive starts, leaving Lefty looking less like himself.
On the course, Woods’ game has been rounding into form this season, and he seems poised to win again sooner rather than later. As for majors, this might be his best chance. The Big Cat has won the Open Championship three times, though not in the last decade and never in this venue. He won’t need to rely on his driver, which has been long but erratic since his return. He can go with his irons off the tee, which have worked out better for him. His wedge game is also solid, and that could help him score if (when) the wind picks up. And, of course, Tiger is still Tiger, one of the smartest and toughest players ever. That matters at Carnoustie.
Mickelson won the 2013 Open Championship, played at Muirfield Golf Links. Since then, he’s won only one tournament, the WGC-Mexico Championship back in early March. And since that win, he’s managed only one top-10 finish. Most recently, Mickelson missed the cut at the Scottish Open. It’s probably foolish to ever really rule him out, but his odds to win this week are 50-1, and his game isn’t trending in the right direction. At least Phil can still hit that flop shot…
>>MORE: Golf Coverage
Who will walk away with the Claret Jug?
The Open Championship field is stellar, of course. Predictions are a little dicey for this major, especially given that a change in weather can essentially eliminate the half of the field unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of the draw. Elements aside, many of the usual suspects are among the tournament favorites.
Dustin Johnson, the top-ranked player in the world, has never done better than T2 (2011) at the Open. He does, however, have three top-10 finishes in his last three tournaments. That includes third place in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, which was a similar test to what Carnoustie can be.
Will Rickie Fowler finally win a major this week? He managed a T2 at the Open back in 2014, but hasn’t cracked the top 20 here since. Fowler has put up three top-5s in his last five majors, and made a strong showing this past weekend at the Scottish Open, played on another links-style course.
Rory McIlroy won the Open Championship in 2014 and finished in the top five in 2016 and 2017. He’s currently ranked eighth in the world, with a T5 finish at the last Masters, though he missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills and has struggled with the putter of late. McIlroy may look to his driver this week, which could be a tricky proposition at Carnoustie.
Twenty years ago, Justin Rose turned pro on the heels of a T4 finish in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. The world’s third-ranked golfer hasn’t done better in the event since, though he has been playing some of his best golf of late. Iron play is traditionally one of this strengths, which should keep him in contention.
Justin Thomas’s Open history — T53 in 2016 and MC in 2017 — is forgettable. A fan of links golf, he still believes he’s good at it, despite poor results. Thomas is also ranked second in the world, and was ranked first for four weeks earlier this year. His talent alone is enough for him to contend at any given event.