After a two-year COVID-induced hiatus, the Open Championship returns. Stock up on the coffee and clean off a spot on the couch, because it’s time to get up pre-dawn and watch some golf. The wind will howl and the rains will fire in sideways, and we’ll need to enjoy it all — after seven majors in less than a year, we’ll now have to wait until April 2022 to see another major. Here’s what you need to know for this week’s championship at Royal St. George’s:
Open Championship storylines
It’s been two years since Shane Lowry delighted all of Ireland by claiming the Claret Jug. Since then, we’ve had, well, a pandemic, along with seven majors in the space of a calendar year. The storylines since last we got up before dawn for a major are legion: first-time winners (Collin Morikawa, Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm); legends taking one more spotlight turn (Phil Mickelson); the best in the game claiming their destiny (Dustin Johnson). Which way will this year’s final major turn? Could Lee Westwood or Tommy Fleetwood finally claim that first major? Or will Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth rediscover their winning form? At The Open, it’s all on the table.
Plus, you can count on several names completely unfamiliar to American audiences making charges up the leaderboard. Ever hear of Marcel Schneider? Yuki Inamori? Nicholas Poppleton? No? That’s OK, they probably haven’t heard of you either.
The COVID question: Are protocols too severe?
The U.K. lost the Open Championship entirely in 2020, and is taking steps to minimize problems at this year’s tournament. The COVID restrictions on testing and social distancing are far more severe on players than on the general public, which will be able to gather and watch in close quarters.
As of Monday afternoon, 16 players had dropped out of the tournament, many for COVID-related reasons, headlined by a trio of Masters winners. Reigning champion Hideki Matsuyama tested positive for COVID, as did Zach Johnson, who received his report just before he was about to board a charter flight with multiple other pros and support staff. (Had ZJ tested positive after the flight, it’s likely the entire flight would have been disqualified.)
Other big names aren’t in the field, most notably Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im. Both have decided to skip The Open to prepare for the Olympics. Kevin Na and Matthew Wolff are also among those who won’t be making the trip to Royal St. George’s, and based on the R&A’s stringent COVID protocols, it’s likely we’ll see more players drop out before Thursday.
The course: charming but deceptive
Located on the dunes of southeast England, Royal St. George’s has hosted 14 Opens prior to this year, most recently Darren Clarke’s emotional victory in 2011. While the list of winners at Royal St. George’s doesn’t quite carry the same heft as other clubs on the Open rota, champions like Ben Curtis, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle and Harry Vardon like the track just fine.
The course’s closing holes are a wicked test of a player’s nerve and touch. Thomas Bjorn, for instance, bogeyed three of the last four holes to surrender the lead, and the win, to Curtis. Clarke stumbled, but pursuers like Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson struggled even more, allowing Clarke to hold on for the win, his first and only major.
Navigating Royal St. George’s means threading your way through a series of dunes and swales, with bunkers deep enough to swallow a school bus. The most intimidating bunker on the course, the fourth’s “Himalaya,” is 40 feet deep and 25 feet wide. Bunkers dot the final stretch of holes, and likely will come into play as each day winds down.
The weather: As lovely as ever at The Open
Every year we tune into The Open expecting to see weather-related carnage, and every year our faith is rewarded. Winds in the United Kingdom wreak havoc with scorecards, fraying nerves and tempers and disrupting everything from drives to putts.
Take every weather prediction at the U.S. Open with an oil tanker full of salt, but at the moment, it’s looking rather … nice? After some showers early Thursday, the skies are supposed to be mostly clear, temps in the high 60s-low 70s. The wind will be in the mid-teens, tricky but not unmanageable. This could all change over the course of one night, but for now, we’re looking at a lovely Open Championship.
Betting preview: One clear favorite
As expected, brand-new major champion Jon Rahm leads the field at +750, by far the best odds on the board. Further back are Brooks Koepka (+1400); Xander Schauffele (+1600); and then the trio of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, all at +1800.
Worth noting: world no. 1 Dustin Johnson is in at +2000, and even more notably, Bryson DeChambeau barely cracks the top 10 at +3000. That’s surely a result of DeChambeau’s sudden caddie shift, but also a reflection of the fact that power may not be the wisest approach at Royal St. George’s. And if you’re feeling optimistic that Phil Mickelson can get it done again at an Open, why, he’s sitting out there at 80-1, just waiting for you. (All odds via our pals at BetMGM, of course.)
Tee times: Put on the coffee
Tee times for Royal St. George’s begin early. All times ET:
3:03 a.m.: Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak, Garrick Higgo
4:25 a.m.: Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, Branden Grace
4:58 a.m.: Shane Lowry, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen
5:09 a.m.: Stewart Cink, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer
5:20 a.m.: Dustin Johnson, Will Zalatoris, Justin Rose
9:48 a.m.: Phil Mickelson, Tyrrell Hatton, Kevin Kisner
9:59 a.m.: Xander Schauffele, Robert MacIntyre, Rickie Fowler
10:10 a.m.: Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Adam Scott
10:21 a.m.: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith
Look at it this way: if you’re on the West Coast, you can cap off your Friday and Saturday nights with some early Open coverage.
TV/streaming coverage: Prepare the Peacock
Are you familiar with NBC’s streaming service Peacock? Prepare to add it to your ever-growing list of streamers, because NBC will be stuffing Peacock with Royal St. George’s content all throughout The Open.
On the broadcast side, Golf Channel will handle the whole day on Thursday and Friday, and the early-morning hours on Saturday and Sunday. Then they’ll give way to the mothership of NBC for the rest of the way each day, with the expectation of wrapping up around 2 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon.
Finally: Is it 'British Open' or 'Open Championship'?
Over on the other side of the pond, they call it the Open Championship, or just “The Open.” Somewhere along the line, American media outlets began using “British Open” so as to avoid confusing their readers. But you’re not that easily confused, are you, dear reader? Plus, if the rest of the world is nice enough to let us keep calling baseball’s championship “The World Series” and not “The North American Cup” or whatever, the least we can do is respect their names. “The Open” it is.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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