The Open Championship (July 18-21) sees the oldest major championship of the season being staged at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Ireland for just the second time in its 148-year history.
The last time it was held there, the colourful Englishman Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug. This time, the sell-out Irish crowd will be hoping to witness Rory McIlroy hold the trophy aloft on Sunday afternoon. There’s a good chance he will too, as he recently said that an Open Championship victory on a course where he shot 61 as a teenager would be the biggest moment of his career, no matter what other wins follow.
The Dunluce Links
There are two golf courses at Royal Portrush Golf Club, the first of which is the Valley Course. However, the 2019 Open Championship will take place on the championship course which is known as the Dunluce Links.
Rugged links land and sea views will greet the players this week, whilst the course has been tweaked from the one that staged the Irish Open in 2012. The 17th and 18th holes have made way for the spectator village and there are now two new holes which will play as holes seven and eight this week.
Eight new tee boxes also allow the course to play over 7,300 yards, whilst 10 new bunkers have been strategically placed. There are also five new green complexes.
Elevation changes and dog-legs throughout will test the players, whilst Calamity Corner is the name of the 236-yard Par 3 16th, a hole that is expected to play a major part in deciding the outcome of the tournament, just as it did in 1951.
The 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club
The 2012 Irish Open is the last time Royal Portrush Golf Club was used for a European Tour Event and it makes for interesting reading. Jamie Donaldson shot –18 to win by four shots from Rafa Cabrero-Bello, with Padraig Harrington the leading Irish Player on –12. Rory McIlroy shot –11, before going on to win that year’s USPGA Championship. Reigning Open Champion Francesco Molinari equalled McIlroy’s score, with Graeme McDowell a further shot behind them.
Some notable names missed the cut that week, including Brandon Grace, Tommy Fleetwood, and last week’s John Deere Classic winner Dylan Frittelli, though Fleetwood and Frittelli were just 21 and 22 at the time.
There have also been six Senior Opens at Royal Portrush. Local hero Christie O’Connor won one, as did Gary Player, whilst former European Ryder Cup players Brian Barnes and Brian Huggett won three between them. The other was won by Pete Oakley, a relatively unknown qualifier that suggests underdogs aren’t completely without hope this week.
Open Championship Interesting Statistics
There is no fool-proof way of picking the winner of any Open Championship, but there are a few stats that would have helped narrow down the field in many of this century’s renewals.
Nine of the last 10 winners have played in the week before the Open. However, whilst playing in the Scottish Open may seem the perfect warm-up, don’t rule out players who played in the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour. Both Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson used the John Deer as a springboard to Open Championship victory.
15 of the last 19 Open Champions had won at least one tournament on either the European Tour or the PGA Tour in the 12-months preceding their Open victory. Only two winners had also failed to post a previous top-six finish in the Open, with two-thirds of those winners actually posting a top-3 finish in a previous Open.
2019 Open Championship Market Leaders
Rory McIlroy has said winning that Open Championship at Royal Portrush will mean more to him than any other of his victories and he will probably be the most backed player this week at a course he probably knows better than any other player in the field.
He’s a great stats-fit too. McIlroy missed this year’s Irish Open to warm-up at the Scottish Open to make sure he played the week before. He’s also a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, and has won the Open Championship before. He’s also finished in the top-five in the last three Open Championships. McIlroy has been playing some of his best golf for ages this season and surely only horrendous weather can stop him from at least landing some each-way money.
The other players battling it out for favouritism may also have made a mistake by not playing last week, a list that includes John Rahm, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson, none of which have outstanding records in the Open Championship. Tiger Woods has been absent even longer, and those tactics failed him in the US Open. Plenty of other players near the head of the market also opted out of playing the week before and may pay the price.
That’s why I’m prepared to make my next selection a 66/1 shot in the shape of Rafa Cabrero-Bello. The Spaniard has a good record in both the Irish Open and the Scottish Open, which he rubber-stamped this year by finishing fourth and ninth the last two weeks. Although his overall Open Championship record is poor, he did record a top-4 finish in the 2018 Open Championship, whilst he was second at Royal Portrush in the 2012 Irish Open.
Eddie Pepperell is another player that has placed at both the Irish and Scottish Opens, and he won last year’s British Masters on a firm layout. He also finished sixth at last year Open, which was just his second start in the tournament. Fourth two weeks ago in Ireland, he warmed up nice and quietly in 43rd position in Scotland last week, and he has what it takes to upset the big boys.