Traveling across the pond for The 149th Open, golfers and caddies are being extra cautious due to some extreme COVID-19 protocols in place this week.
It's already getting hard to keep up with all the field changes over the last week and we should expect to see some more pre-tournament WDs before the season's final major gets underway.
Even with all of the field changes, this will remain one of the strongest fields of the year.
Let's jump right in and talk a bit about the course that will be hosting this week.
Royal St. George's will be the star of the show this week.
They are no stranger to running the event as this will be the 15th time they've hosted The Open. Only St. Andrews, Prestwick, and Muirfield have hosted more Opens.
The two most recent appearances were in 2011 (Darren Clarke) and 2003 (Ben Curtis). Don't be fooled by the longshot winners, there was plenty of cream that rose to the top in those two editions, the winners just happened to have come from further down the board.
The course was designed by Laidlaw Purves back in the late 1800s and it is very easy to bucket it into the "classical links" department.
This par-70 layout stretches out to 7,206 yards. When you consider the firm-and-fast conditions that usually accompany a layout in this region, that is not long by any means.
From a hole-by-hole layout, golfers will be tested on the par 3s with two of them play right around 240 yards.
For the par 4s and 5s, golfers will deal with a lot of undulations on the fairways. They will see a lot of uneven lies and will also need to pray for good luck because of all of the humps and bumps and lead to a bad bounce or two over the course of the week. What golfers will be trying to avoid with those bounces is tricking into the bunkers. Unlike bunkers in America, these sand traps are true hazards and are to be avoided at all costs.
For the hole-by-hole yardage on the par 4s, just two of them play over 460 yards so it will be a lot of short or mid-irons when attacking the greens this week. That doesn't mean it will play easy because the greens are also undulated and they will repel plenty of approach shots that aren't properly struck. If the wind also picks up like it often does on the coast, that will only increase the importance of around-the-green play.
For turf, golfers will see fine fescues that will be familiar and comfortable for any golfers that grew up in GB&I. Since the course is nestled right on the coast, green speeds will need to be kept at a reasonable speed. This is usually the case when The Open runs the show, so past success in the event is a big plus, even with the chance of venues each year.
Overall, this adds up to an all-around test that is going to force you to hit fairways off the tee, deal with uneven lies and potential bad bounces on approach, be able to scramble around the greens, and also avoid three-putts on the undulating greens.
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Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Rory McIlroy: "If anything I struggled a little bit with the speed on the greens. They can't cut them too low just because of the wind, so they are pretty slow. So I struggled to get the ball to the hole a couple of times." -2011
Lee Westwood: "There are a few places where you accept where you're going to get bad breaks, but you get good breaks, as well. Strategically it's a good golf course. You have to plan your way around it. It's not always driver off every tee, which is quite nice." -2011
Rory McIlroy: "I think especially with the rough not being up, I think this golf course is going to be all about the second shot and making sure that you get the ball in the right position on the green because the greens are so slopey that you're going to have 25, 30-footers all day if you do hit the greens.
Yeah, it's going to be making sure you put your second shots in the right place and then being pretty good around the greens." -2011
Luke Donald: "This one, some of the greens are a little bit more severe than other Open Championships I've played in parts. I feel like some of the hardest holes have some of the hardest greens, and I feel like some of the easier holes have some of the flatter greens, which is a little counterintuitive and sort of a different way of doing it." -2011
Ben Curtis: "you've got to stay out of those bunkers. Back home some courses you can hit it in every bunker on the course and you'll be all right. But over here almost every one you go in is not a good place to be. So you've got to avoid those, and obviously you've got to chip and putt it real well and just try and play to your strengths, as well." -2011
Recap: Golfers talk a lot about the severity of the greens at Royal St. George's. To overcome that you can either be elite with your irons, to land in the proper sections, or you can be elite around the greens to give yourself shorter par-saving putts.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Winds at 12 to 15 MPH. Gusts up to 25 MPH.
Friday: Cloudy with a high of 65 degrees. Winds at 14 to 16 MPH. Gusts up to 25 MPH.
If you are looking for birdies you will be disappointed in this forecast. The wind is not trying to hide this week and will be steady at 10+ MPH all week with gusts around 25 MPH most days.
Golfers to Watch
He dropped back to World No. 2 in the OWGR but he is still the pre-tournament betting favorite this week. It's easy to see why after watching him dominate at Muirfield Village and Torrey Pines recently. The Spaniard arrives fresh off a solo 7th last week at the Scottish Open. That event is always a good warmup to get golfers ready for links golf.
DJ didn't peg it last week but he did regain his status as World No. 1 golfer. He arrives in a bit of a slump by his lofty standards. Johnson hasn't posted anything better than T10 in his last nine stroke-play events. The form may not be the sharpest but he does have some good vibes at Royal St. George's as he was one off the lead heading into Sunday in 2011 and ended with a co-runner-up finish alongside Phil Mickelson.
The young Aussie looked sharp with finishes of T18 and T19 in his last two PGA TOUR starts. Then he went overseas and won the Irish Open before getting right back in the hunt last week in Scotland, posting a T4 finish at the Scottish Open. His baseline level of play is still around middle of the pack in this week's field but if you are looking for a hot hand, give him a look.
Whenever I hear undulating fairways, I instantly think of Spieth. He has talked about how much he likes the creativity element that uneven lies bring to the table. Performance at courses like Augusta National and Kapalua may be good pointers toward success this week as they also give golfers a lot of tricky lies when approaching the green. The Texan has finished T30 or better in seven straight stroke-play events and should be one to watch closely this week.
I think McIlroy often gets unfairly criticized for his ability to tackle links golf. His first six starts at this event yielded just one finish better than T25. However, his recent track record is much better with top 5s in four of his last five starts at The Open including his 2014 victory at Royal Liverpool. I think the state of his game is a real concern though. McIlroy arrives off a missed cut last week at the Scottish Open and settled for a T59 the week before at the Irish Open.
When looking at the start of McIlroy's Open Championship career, it reminds us that links golf is not an easy nut to crack. The older and wiser golfers are often flying into contention when The Open rolls around while the younger studs will strike out at a higher rate than usual. That adds a bit of a sting to golfers like Hovland who are superstars in the making but have no experience at this event. I'm not saying it's impossible for golfers to contend right away without any past Open Championship success but I do think it's a good week to learn on tournament experience.
Breaking in the new caddie at Royal St. George's, there are a few more question marks that surround the DeChambeau camp, compared to a month ago. This is not a bomb-and-gouge layout but if he wants to test his luck with the bunkers he could probably take a few aggressive lines this week that would give him a big leg-up on the field. That's always the case with DeChambeau though. He's a high-upside option for weekly gamers but not exactly risk-free.
He ditched the armlock putting experiment toward the end of last week at the Scottish Open. It was surprising to see him put that into play without more testing but should be back to his normal putting stroke this week. The big-game hunter arrives with top 10s in nine of his 17 majors played in over the course of his career.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Xander Schauffele
3. Jordan Spieth
4. Patrick Cantlay
5. Patrick Reed
6. Rory McIlroy
7. Brooks Koepka
8. Justin Thomas
9. Dustin Johnson
10. Louis Oosthuizen
11. Viktor Hovland
12. Tyrrell Hatton
13. Paul Casey
14. Collin Morikawa
15. Tony Finau
16. Bryson DeChambeau
17. Daniel Berger
18. Matthew Fitzpatrick
19. Scottie Scheffler
20. Tommy Fleetwood