Key questions on the eve of The 146th Open
After weeks of buildup and days of preparation, The 146th Open is set to begin Thursday.
Here are five key questions to consider heading into the opening round at Royal Birkdale:
Will there be a ‘bad end’ of the draw?
Weather often plays a factor at The Open, and after three days of blissful sunshine, final on-course preparations were cut short Wednesday afternoon because of an incoming storm. The unique nature of the draw at this event means that players can sometimes benefit from – or be hurt by – their position on the tee sheet. Winds and rain are expected intermittently throughout the week, but it remains to be seen if one side of the field will face a more uphill battle than the other.
Can Rory McIlroy turn it around?
McIlroy enters with more questions than answers after missing the cut at both the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. The Ulsterman lifted the Claret Jug just three years ago and has displayed a penchant for quickly turning struggles into success, but it remains to be seen if he can do so on a demanding test like Royal Birkdale. Thursday’s opener should provide a big indication as to his chances to contend this week.
Will the first-timers streak continue?
From Jason Day to Brooks Koepka, each of the last seven majors have been won by first-time winners. The crop hoping to prolong that trend includes Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama, two men who contended last month at Erin Hills but ultimately fell short. Only once in major history has there been a longer streak of first-time major success, so the odds would indicate that eventually an accomplished champion will step back into the spotlight.
Is a Royal Birkdale repeat in store?
Henrik Stenson has downplayed his chances of a successful title defense, but after a record-breaking effort last year at Royal Troon it seems unwise to bet against him. The Swede has finished T-26 or better in five of his last six worldwide starts, and while he hasn’t won since lifting the Claret Jug he no doubt possesses the same skill that helped him tie for third at Royal Birkdale in 2008. That year, the defending champ came to the tournament grounds with low expectations, but when it was all said and done Padraig Harrington managed to retain the title of Champion Golfer of the Year.
Can Tommy Fleetwood thrive in the spotlight?
The Southport native snuck onto Royal Birkdale as a kid, and he’ll have plenty of fan support this week while playing The Open in his backyard. Fleetwood has been one of the hottest golfers on the planet this year, with two European Tour wins including the HNA Open de France earlier this month. The Open hasn’t had a Champion Golfer of the Year with local ties since Paul Lawrie surprised at Carnoustie in 1999, but a strong start from Fleetwood in the opening round would be a welcome development for his ardent local supporters.