The biggest names in the game are understandably receiving plenty of attention this week at Royal Portrush.
After all, major championships have become rather top-heavy results in recent years. The best in the world have distanced themselves from the pack with one trophy after the next, to the point that Gary Woodland’s win at Pebble Beach as the 24th-ranked player in the world seemed like something of a surprise. But in fact there hasn’t been a major champion to truly come from the pack since Jimmy Walker captured the 2016 PGA Championship.
But that could all change this week at The 148th Open, played on a challenging venue that few have seen before this week. So here’s a look at some of the players who are currently flying a bit under the radar but could still contend for the Claret Jug this weekend along the Irish coast:
Adam Scott. The Aussie let the title slip through his grasp seven years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s, but he has a great chance this week to snag an elusive title. The Aussie has been a perennial contender since 2012, having reeled off four straight top-10 finishes in The Open, and he tied for seventh at the U.S. Open in his most recent start. He hasn’t finished worse than 18th since February and has spent the last week in Northern Ireland learning the nuances of Royal Portrush.
Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama hasn’t missed a cut since in a full year, a stretch of 28 straight worldwide starts that dates back to an early exit last summer at Carnoustie. He hasn’t finished worse than T-33 since early January, boasts six straight top-25s and is third on the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green. His Open record includes three top-20 results in six appearances, highlighted by a T-6 finish in 2013 at Muirfield in his tournament debut.
Matt Kuchar. It's been two years since Kuchar's memorable duel with Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale, and he returns to The Open in the midst of the best season of his career. Two wins and a pair of runner-up finishes in the U.S. have fueled the veteran, who at age 41 has arrived in Portrush with ample momentum. A missed cut at the Memorial remains the only outlier in his last four months of play, with every other result T-26 or better, and last year's T-9 finish in Scotland showed that his Birkdale challenge was no fluke.
Webb Simpson. The former U.S. Open champ has quietly put together a solid season, including a runner-up finish last month in Canada and a T-5 finish at the Masters. Five of his last six starts have ended in top-20 finishes, and he has 10 such results since November. Simpson has gradually improved across his last four Open appearances, highlighted by a T-12 finish last year at Carnoustie where he started the final round just one shot behind eventual winner Francesco Molinari.
Matt Wallace. The Englishman will have plenty of eyeballs on him while playing the first two rounds alongside Tiger Woods, but his game deserves the extra attention. Wallace posted three European Tour victories last year and challenged at the PGA Championship in May, finishing in a tie for third. Wallace missed the cut last year at Carnoustie but has since found his footing in the biggest events, with five top-15 finishes in his last seven worldwide starts.