British Open 2019 : Thanks to the PGA Tour’s new schedule, British Open 2019 is now the fourth and final men’s major championship of the season Here’s our ever-changing weekly ranking of the best bets (with odds from Westgate Las Vegas Superbook) to win the British Open 2019 Reason to pick: Another golfer SportsLine simulated the 2019 British Open 10000 times and came up with a surprising leaderboard
Rory McIlroy was just 16 years old when he broke the course record at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, home to the British Open this year.
He shot a 61. It was that round at the 2005 North of Ireland Championship — highlighted by nine birdies and one eagle — that ignited his career. It was the announcement to the golf world that he had arrived.
“It was unbelievable and surreal how someone managed to shoot such a low score — he was only 16,” Gary McNeill, the Royal Portrush club pro who was there that day, said in an interview.
“Everyone was shocked,” he said. “It was a special day, and a signal that this kid was something. Lots of kids have something, but rarely amount to much. He was impressive in the way he was able to maintain that concentration and focus. He was fearless. That’s one of the things that all the great players have.”
Stephen Crowe was McIlroy’s partner that day.
“It started off steady enough,” he said. “I was thinking it was going to be a solid round, but nothing special. Then from nowhere he went from 2 under to 6 under.
“At that stage, word was getting out. He always had a crowd around him, but that day the crowd got bigger as he got more birdies.”
McIlroy also knew he had done something special.
“I was still lying in my bed last night thinking about it,” he told reporters the next day. “To shoot 61 anywhere is unbelievable, but to shoot it round Royal Portrush is even better.”
Fourteen years later, McIlroy still remembers that day. “There are not many golf runs that I remember every shot, but that day I do,” he said in a recent interview released by the tournament.
He remembers missing a putt at the first hole for a birdie. Driving a 6-iron onto the green at the second, where he two-putted for a birdie; and the birdie he made on the par-3 sixth hole. He remembers his wedge shot on the par-5 ninth and the eagle on 10. With a birdie on the 11th, he was 6 under. “At that point I realized I was doing something special,” he said. Five birdies followed.
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At the 17th hole, there was a wait as players gathered at the tee. McIlroy stepped away to take some practice swings.
“I think I had probably caught myself thinking about it a little too much,” he said. “I wanted to go clear my head a bit and start afresh with a new golf shot.”
McIlroy returned to the tee and hit a perfect drive, followed by a long iron to the front right side of the green and a two-putt for birdie. He closed out the round with a final birdie and carded a 61, breaking the previous course record of 64 set by Randal Evans in 2002.
“That confidence I had and the cockiness at 16,” he said. “Sometimes, I need to rediscover that.”
Royal Portrush has two links courses: the Dunluce Links and Valley Links. The Open, which starts on Thursday, will be played on Dunluce, on a par-72, 7,317-yard track designed by Harry Colt.
[Read more on how the British Open finally returned to Royal Portrush after almost 70 years.]
Royal Portrush previously hosted the British Open in 1951. The club also held the Irish Open in 2012, where McIlroy tied at 10 with 11 under. It has changed slightly since his course record, with the golf architect Martin Ebert updating it to meet championship standards.
McIlroy played the front nine last Saturday, including the new seventh and eighth holes.
“He just played them all alone,” said McNeill, the club pro. “He was really excited. He was buzzing.”
McIlroy called the new eighth hole, a par 4 at 430 yards, “a huge improvement.”
There are two bunkers to contend with. “You have two options,” he said. “You can take the bunkers out of play short or you can take the bunkers out of play long. Most guys lay back.” McIlroy played long.
He recognized the pressure to perform for hometown crowds.
“In my lifetime, I never thought I’d get to play an Open championship at home in Northern Ireland,” he said recently. “It’s going to be massive. That week has been earmarked for a long time. It’s going to be one of those weeks where I have to enjoy the opportunity of getting to play in front of my hometown, not trying too hard, not putting myself under a lot of pressure. Just to go out and enjoy it, because it might be the only time I get to do it.”
As the 148th Open Championship starts to come into focus, it’s time to talk about the golfers best suited to win this event. Even though there are 156 players in the field, not all of them have an equivalent chance of taking home the Claret Jug. There is a clear top tier, but there is also a lurking second tier beyond that ready to clean things up at Royal Portrush if the mega-favorites falter.
Here are the top 25 golfers going into this tournament, ranked from the top by how likely they are to win the final major championship of 2019.
1. Brooks Koepka (Best finish — T6 in 2017): If the best major championship golfer in the world has a weakness, I suppose it’s The Open. Although I feel a bit silly saying that a pair of top-10 finishes in his last three starts is a weakness. Regardless, he’s proven that of all the top dogs, his stuff is the most suited to these types of events. I could not possibly care less about the finishes in non-majors. In fact, I wish he would just stop playing non-majors altogether. Can you imagine? The best golfer in the world shows up four times a year and spends the other 48 weeks making sure the filters on his Instagram feed are properly adjusted.
2. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2014): The storyline honestly might be a little too good. McIlroy has been the most consistently great major championship golfer over the last decade and arguably the best player on the planet in 2019. And he’s going back to a course in Royal Portrush where he holds the course record. If he wins this Open with this field then the last five years of futility suddenly vanishes like it never happened. Poof, Rory got to five, and only nine post-World War II golfers would have more major titles, and all of them are legends.
3. Matt Kuchar (2nd in 2017): Good afternoon, I’m here to break some news to you. The information is three-pronged. All I’m doing is prepping you for what could possibly go down at Portrush this week.
Matt Kuchar is having the best season of his career.
Matt Kuchar is in a group of eight who have multiple top 10s in the last five Opens.
Matt Kuchar crushed early at the Scottish Open last weekend.
4. Adam Scott (2nd in 2012): The Australian finished in the top eight at both Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach, and he’s having the best season of anyone yet to win. Also, he has a history here. Some might say it is a dark and sordid history — and some of it is! — but the man hasn’t missed an Open cut since Tom Watson nearly won in 2009 and only has one finish north of the top 25 in his last eight tries.
5. Justin Rose (T2 in 2018): His best finish at this tournament until last year when he barely made the cut and went on to take T2 was in 1998 when he went T4 as an amateur. A Rose win wouldn’t do much broadly, but Portrush would fit nicely into his preposterous collection of conquered courses.
6. Xander Schauffele (T2 in 2018): The chasm between T2 and solo 1 is wider than it may appear. We know Schauffele has the talent — that’s fairly obvious at this point — but does he have the thing it takes to close a three-stroke lead with 13 holes left and a bunch of multiple-time major winners huffing at his neck? It’s one of a handful of scenarios we haven’t yet seen that would pique my curiosity.
7. Patrick Cantlay (T12 in 2018): Strangely, last season was his first appearance at The Open. He took advantage with a T12 finish, and now he’s having one of the great strokes gained seasons of the last 20 years. It will be tough to watch him in Europe for the first time since the last time we could have seen him in Europe at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
8. Tiger Woods (Won in 2000, 2005, 2006): I could justify anywhere between about 3-20 on this list. The reality here is that we don’t know if the big break between events is great or horrible for him. It would be easy to take the PGA Championship and U.S. Open data and extrapolate it to say that he should be playing more, but Bethpage Black is such a different track than Portrush. Tiger contending at Carnoustie last season opened my eyes to the reality that as long as the spine is vertical, Tiger is going to be a thorn at Opens for many, many more years.
9. Henrik Stenson (Won in 2016): After a sluggish start to 2019, he’s had three straight top 10s and is cresting at the right time. No word yet on the effects of Brexit on getting his 3-wood through security in Belfast.
10. Dustin Johnson (T2 in 2011): I’ll do it because I respect the game, but he only has one top-10 finish in his last six after nearly swiping the 2011 rendition.
11. Jon Rahm (T44 in 2017): It’s not that hard to envision because Rahm wins everywhere in the world — if you’re bagging Lahinch and Torrey Pines, you’re a dude — but his Open record concerns me a bit. Shouldn’t he have at least a top-30 finish at this point?
12. Francesco Molinari (Won in 2018): I’m worried that the Big Cat may have broken him at Augusta National. He doesn’t have a top 10 since then.
13. Tommy Fleetwood (T12 in 2018): It feels like I say to myself, “Man it’s easy to see Fleetwood winning here” at least three times every major season.
14. Justin Thomas (T53 in 2016): Might be the forgotten man. Also might be like the third-best player in the world. We live in a world that doesn’t think beyond the last week, much less the last three months, but Thomas was awesome to start 2019 and played quite well in Scotland last weekend. I confess the T53-MC-MC start to his Open career does not engender a load of confidence.
15. Hideki Matsuyama (T6 in 2013): Has not thrived at this tournament recently, but he’s having an unbelievable ball-striking season and should be helped by this little fact as noted by Golfweek.
The Forecaddie counted an almost perfect blend of shot shapes required off the tees and greens, setting up ideally for stout ball strikers who may just be so-so on the putting surfaces.
16. Louis Oosthuizen (Won in 2010): T7 at the U.S. Open was just his second top-10 at a major since nearly winning St. Andrews in 2015. I loved this recent tidbit about why Oosthuizen once played the John Deere Classic the week before the Open (although he didn’t this year) before taking the chartered flight from Illinois to Europe.
The jet has also drawn elite players with a curiosity for the tournament. “Louis Oosthuizen is a huge John Deere guy,” Peterson said. “He bought a 6000 series tractor with his Open winnings and came here the year after he won to go on a factory tour. The jet allowed him to still get on and go and defend.”
17. Webb Simpson (T12 in 2018): Since missing the cut at Liverpool in 2014, Simpson has steadily improved every year at this event. That culminated in a T12 last year at Carnoustie. Last time we saw him in Europe, he was downing Justin Rose in a Ryder Cup singles match.
18. Rickie Fowler (T2 in 2014): Interestingly, since he lost to McIlroy in 2014, Fowler hasn’t finished in the top 10 at a tournament where he should thrive. No top 10s anywhere this year since the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
19. Jason Day (T4 in 2015): Doesn’t top 10 at Opens but doesn’t really miss cuts either. I’m unsure of the antihistamine situation in Northern Ireland.
20. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2017): I realize this sounds ludicrous given how poor he’s been in 2019, but I can’t ignore the three top 10s here in the last five years, nor the whole “playing in the final pairing” thing last year at Carnoustie. These places have a way of unearthing whatever magic you have buried.
21. Marc Leishman (T2 in 2015): He’s one of just four golfers with three or more top 10s at the last five of these. The faster and firmer the track, the better off Leishman should be. He should thrive at a classic like Portrush