It is hard to believe two years have passed since the 148th edition of The Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Ireland. It was one of the most memorable Open Championship events thanks to the feel-good story of local Irishman and fan favorite, Shane Lowry, winning the first Open Championship in Ireland for 70 years. Lowry played outstanding golf all week, highlighted by his 3rd round 63, which helped catapult him to a six-stroke victory.
The Open finally returns after the 2020 tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19. Golf has seen a steady return of fans on the PGA Tour in recent weeks and the R&A announced in the lead up they would be allowing up to 32,000 spectators each day at Royal St. George’s. The last time Royal St. George’s played host to an Open Championship was 2011, where Darren Clarke bested Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson to claim his only major championship victory to date. Although Clarke was a world-renowned player, he had fallen off in recent years and showed little form in the lead up. At age 42, Clarke put on a fine display, describing it as one of the finest ball-striking weeks he’s ever had, culminating in a three-stroke win.
The only other time Royal St. George’s has hosted The Open since the turn of the century was 2003. Ben Curtis would emerge from complete golfing obscurity to outlast a stellar field of challengers and take home the title. Curtis was 26 years old in 2003, had never won on the PGA Tour and was playing in his first ever major championship. A final round (-1) 69, along with some help from Thomas Bjorn, who took three shots to escape the sand on the 16th hole on Sunday, ensured a one-stroke victory for Curtis.
Royal St. George’s is often considered one of the toughest Open Championship courses, with Golf World’s Top 100 ranking it as the top course in England. The championship course will measure 7,189 yards, 22 yards shorter than when Clarke won in 2011. Both sides play to a par 35 for a total of 70, the front nine playing approximately 50 yards longer than the back. The majority of course works, which have taken place since 2011, are in the form of bunker shaping and positioning.
The Open Championship field is always the most international of the four majors. Players from all the major tours around the world compete for the coveted Claret Jug and to be named ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’. Along with the PGA Championship, The Open tends to produce more obscure winners than The Masters or US Open. The Masters less likely because of the limitations on exemptions and the number of relative knowns in the field. The US Open is less so because it is often long, firm, fast and the style of golf is fairly predictable. The cream usually rises to the top. The Open Championship offers the most unique and unpredictable challenge of all the majors. Course setup is heavily determined by mother nature. If the summer produces rains and cooler temperatures, we can expect a lush, green, slower golf course. A hot, dry summer will leave the course looking baked, yellow, and firm. Lastly, and most notably, the wind. No other factor will play a greater determining factor on par at The Open. In the coming days, steady rain in Sandwich and cool temperatures should provide ideal green fairways and thick rough. Rain is expected to ease later on Wednesday, making for clear skies and steady breezes, providing an exceptional experience for those in the field.
The winner for the week will ultimately be the golf course. Royal St. George’s provides the finest test to the world’s best players. If past Open Championships at Royal St. George’s have taught us anything then the final score to par will range between (E) and (-5) with one player taking fewer strokes than the next to become the newest ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’.