SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND_ When the 146th Open Championship commences this Thursday at Royal Birkdale Golf Club the field will be fighting for possession of the famed Claret Jug. The competitive nature of major championships has resulted in seven different winners going back to Zach Johnson’s 2015 win at The Old Course at St. Andrews. The last visit of The Open to Birkdale took place in 2008 when Irishman Padraig Harrington claimed the title over a surprising 53-year-old Aussie named Greg Norman.
This year marks the 10th time Birkdale serves as host and the roster of champions has featured a consistent theme of top tier players making their way to victory. Picking players to excel is always a dicey situation given the constant ups and downs of competitive golf at the highest of levels. The following four players look poised to make a clear statement with their play this week.
The 28-year-old American has shown a real fondness for links golf — Rickie tied for 9th in last week’s Scottish Open. Fowler has come from the States at least one week prior the last few years in order to get ready for the vagaries of links golf. The issue is not getting into contention but can he finish off a major championship? At the US Open at Erin Hills Fowler was poised to earn his first major but his play was simply mediocre in the final round and resulted in a tie for 5th.
Fowler enjoys dealing with various shotmaking challenges that lie at the heart of links golf. The 10th ranked player in the world is not squeamish about the big stage. The issue for Rickie is being able to finalize the matter and carry it through to the conclusion. With each succeeding major that he does not win the pressure to do so will only intensify.
The 14th ranked player in the world is number one in the Race to Dubai series and is finally showing the results his talent had been forecasted to deliver. Fleetwood was a contender right to the very end at the US Open where he finished 4th. The 26-year-old possesses an array of different shots and is fully capable in claiming his first major title at Birkdale.
The main issue for Tommy this week? Being a local lad from Southport will only mean more pressure to perform in front of the homefolk. This year’s event marks Fleetwood’s fourth Open and he has not made the cut in the previous three. Getting off to a good start will be a primary emphasis point in order to get the jitters out of the way.
The Olympic champion and 2013 US Open winner made his grand entrance into the global golf world as a 17-year-old amateur holing out a 50-yard pitch shot for birdie at the last hole during the 1998 Open Championship at Birkdale resulting in a tie for 4th.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 18, 2017
In the years to follow the Englishman has added only one top ten placement in The Open. The return to Birkdale this year could be the catalyst for him to re-establish his credentials as one of the finest players in the game.
At this year’s Masters Rose battled Sergio Garcia all the way — eventually losing in a playoff to the Spaniard.
Rose has had health issue with a back that has caused him to miss key events at different times. A superior tee-to-green game is balanced with a putting stroke that can catch fire at anytime. If Justin gets in the hunt he will not back down unless beaten by superior play from someone else.
Brooks Koepka’s last start was a victory at the US Open. Often times when a player has captured a major event the likelihood for a letdown is the result. The 11th ranked player in the world is no stranger to European golf and to the requirement found in links golf. It is in Europe where Koepka’s professional career took off.
Birkdale provides relatively flat fairways with flanking dunes land on many of the holes. This can give Koepka an advantage in using his power game to maximum effect. The 27-year-old has demonstrated an unflappable demeanor and playing links golf will demand nothing less given the uncertainties tied to weather.
With Birkdale being the first event since his triumph at Erin Hills, Koepka will most certainly want to show his full capabilities. The last golfer to carry off the feat was Tiger Woods in 2000. Koepka is capable in doing so.