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The final major of the season begins Thursday at Royal Portrush in North Ireland and the focus will be on native son Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x).
And probably rightfully so. He shot a course record 61 at the North of Ireland Championship in 2005. Playing in his home country and enjoying a solid season are sufficient reasons to make him the favorite in many sports books laying odds on The Open Championship. Rory is third in FedExCup points and third in the Official World Golf Ranking. He has played in 14 tournaments and made the cut in 13, winning the Players Championship and RBC Canadian Open.
If the 30-year-old wins, it will be off the charts.
This will be on the second time in Open history that the tournament will be played at Royal Portrush, the last time in 1951.
Brooks Koepka (Titleist Pro V1x), whose caddie, Ricky Elliott, is a Portrush native, will also be heavily backed. Because I’m going with long shots as my choices, I’m going to take a pass on Koepka, although I expect he will likely begin Sunday in the final two or three pairings. If Koepka wins, he truly is the best golfer of this generation.
I’m not crazy about Tiger Woods (Bridgestone Tour B XS). It was a great story last year when he won the final PGA tournament of the season, only to match it in this year’s Masters. I’m just concerned about his health and how it will hold up in the extreme weather conditions and a links course.
I’m going off the board with my picks. Here are my top four:
MATT KUCHAR (Bridgestone Tour B XS): He is ranked first in FedExCup points and 13th in the OWGR. He’s one of those best players who have never won a major. Maybe this will be his tournament to put that to rest. I still recall how close he was a couple years ago in that epic battle with Jordan Spieth (Titleist Pro V1x), who at the time was the best in the world. Kuchar has had a crazy season and the only thing crazier would be seeing him win this tournament.
PAUL CASEY (Titleist Pro V1): He is ranked eighth in the FedExCup points and 15th in the OWGR. The 41-year-old Englishman has been on the fringes on taking his game to the next level. I’ve liked him for a long time.
GRAEME MCDOWELL (Srixon Z-Star XV): The other Irishman. He is a native of Portrush and he is a major winner, granted it was back in 2010 when he won the U.S. Open. His best finish in The Open Championship was back in 2012 when he finished. Look, he’s had a decent season, making the cut in 16 of 17 tournaments, but will be considered a fringe player. So if you are looking to swing for the fences, he is the guy.
SPEITH: I’ve been hoping all season for Jordan to play four complete rounds and show that he’s back to his old form. Suffice to say if he can play within himself and keep his emotions in check, there is always the chance he could win.
With the four big tournaments coming to an end this weekend, Jordan could make this season, which has seen a dramatic overhaul of the schedule, something to remember.
One this is for sure: If you are living in North America and are a golf fan, is there anything better than getting up in the morning and watching The Open Championship? I’ll take Breakfast at The Open Championship, wherever it is played, over Breakfast at Wimbledon any day, purely for the drama. The Open Championship is my favorite major because of the combination of the weather, the course and those crazy bunkers that look like craters. The Masters has those undulating fairways, the U.S. Open has slick greens (for the most part) and the PGA Championship is generally the most benign of the four majors.
I’ll be up early from Thursday to Sunday glued to the television. Simply can’t wait to watch this year’s tournament.