An absolutely loaded field heads to Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim this weekend to play for one of the oldest trophies in sports. Amazingly, the Open Championship’s visit to Northern Ireland will be its first in 68 years. So, it should come as little surprise that Ulsterman, and 2014 winner, Rory McIlroy, enters as the favorite (8-1) to lift the Claret Jug for the second time. A field including fifteen former champions, and world #1 Brooks Koepka, will have to battle the challenging links course, some typically Irish weather, and themselves.
Actually, for night owls out west, the British Open will begin late Wednesday, with Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, American Charley Hoffman, and amateur James Sugrue of the Republic of Ireland teeing off at 10:35 PM Pacific. The Open typically rotates between three Scottish and two English courses every five years, so Royal Portrush was, to put it mildly, a bit out of the ordinary. With the possible exceptions of McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Koepka‘s caddie, Ricky Elliot, the course will be an almost complete unknown. McIlroy actually broke the club record, shooting a 61 at just 16 years of age, only adding to his favored status.
Koepka and Dustin Johnson represent the best American hopes to win the 148th Open (10-1). If they, or any other American, is successful, it will be the first clean sweep of golf’s majors by the United States since 1982. You might’ve already forgotten about last year’s champion, Francesco Molinari, who enters at 20-1 odds of repeating. A scheduling quirk, moving the PGA Championship from August to May, means the Open, which typically goes third, will be the final major championship of 2019. That could add some added incentive to players, like Rickie Fowler or Matt Kuchar, who would rather not wait ’till next year.
If someone is going to win their first major this weekend, it might be Spaniard Jon Rahm (16-1). At 24 years old, Rahmbo is winning tournaments at a pace not seen since a young Tiger Woods. He became the fastest player on the European Tour to win four times— in just 34 appearances— in more than 40 years. He also set an all-time record for spending 60 consecutive weeks as the world’s top-ranked amateur. FiveThirtyEight compares his current progress favorably to Woods and McIlroy before they turned 25. You have to admit, that’s pretty good company.
The links of Royal Portrush will be challenging enough before one figures in the hard facts of Irish weather. It probably won’t get too nasty this weekend, but Wednesday offered plenty of gusty winds and soaking rain. Expect that to be the norm for the first three days: not enough to cause delays or rainouts, just enough to make life miserable for the contestants. Mother Nature will smile upon the game’s greatest showcase, however, with a dry but windy day forecast for the final round on Sunday.