The adjusted PGA Tour schedule for 2019 is coming down the home stretch, and this week it is the final major championship of the season taking place, where appropriately enough, they crown “The Champion Golfer of The Year.” It is the 148th playing of golf’s oldest championship, the British Open, and for the first time in 68 years, the championship is returning to Northern Ireland and the Dunluce Links course at Royal Portrush.
While it is only the second British Open to be held at Portrush, the venue is absolutely held in high regard and has had its fair share of marquee events, hosting the British Senior Open six times and the Irish Open four times, most recently in 2012. It is a gorgeous, seaside, classic links test of golf, located on the County Antrim coast. Royal Portrush’s history dates to Old Tom Morris and the late 1800s, but Harry Colt is primarily responsible for what the course is today. After Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy won the Open in 2014 at Hoylake, Royal Portrush emerged as a candidate to again host the championship and McIlroy, its hometown hero and course record holder. Hence in 2015, the course went through a few changes to bring it up to modern-day major championship speed. What we have now is a par-71 layout full of dunes, doglegs, contour and some areas of nasty rough, stretching to more than 7300 yards in total length.
My feeling is that there will be more of a need for accuracy off of the tee over distance, but really that the championship will be won from the second shots on in. Winning major championships typically takes a little bit of everything and that may not be any more pronounced than at a British Open. But I believe this will be about ball striking and the short game and not necessarily what one does off the tee. Strokes gained on approach, strokes gained around the greens, putting, scrambling and avoiding a blow-up, big-number hole ought to go a long way toward hoisting the Claret Jug.
They have been getting rain in the area, and it remains in the forecast for every day of the championship, with humidity and temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s. Currently, the wind does not appear to be much of a factor, blowing in the neighborhood of 10-12 mph. However, on Thursday, it looks like it could get to above 15 mph with no real advantage to one part of the day or the other, but blowing steadily all day long before settling back down again over the weekend.
TOURNAMENT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCH UP
Hideki Matsuyama (-125) over Jason Day
Both have worlds of talent, but Day’s career has been hampered greatly by injury and illness since winning the PGA Championship in 2015. Matsuyama hasn’t missed a cut all season and has six straight starts of finishing top 25. Only twice in eight tries has Day finished top 20 at the British Open. Matsuyama has done so three times in six tries, and his stats are much better than Day’s coming in. Day is known for hitting one of the highest ball trajectories on Tour and that does not always fare well for a European-style course or game. I will take the better ball-striker and the more consistent player as of late as a short favorite.
THREE PICKS TO WIN THE BRITISH OPEN
Jon Rahm (16/1)
The young Spaniard is quickly coming of age as he now has three top-5 finishes in his last seven majors. He arrives off of a second-place finish at Valderrama in Spain and a win at the Irish Open, his second Irish Open victory in three tries. So we know he has an affinity for links golf as well as links golf in this part of the world. What I like about Rahm is his remarkable consistency. He’s good at everything. The question remains the same: We are not asking if he’ll win a major, but when?
Xander Schauffele (20/1)
Another young gun who seems to follow the philosophy of Brooks Koepka: Showing up big in the big games. The 25-year-old from San Diego has competed in 10 major championships and finished top 10 in half of them, including second at this year’s Masters and second at last year’s British Open. Schauffele already has two victories this season and, like Rahm, he is extremely consistent across the board in the stats. He does everything well and again, the question is not if but when. I think “when” is soon.
Adam Scott (30/1)
Australians have always had tremendous ability to play in wind, so it is no surprise that Scott has a tremendous record at the British Open. He has competed in 19 straight and in his last eight trips, Scotty has two top-25 finishes, one top 20 and four top 10s. He blew a four-shot lead down the stretch in 2012, eventually losing to Ernie Els. With a resurgence in his game and exquisite ball striking, 2019 might be the right time for making good on some unfinished business at the British Open.