After a year off, The Open is back. As the year's final major is played after its one-year break because of COVID-19, it comes with plenty of big, big questions. As always, will the conditions play a factor, meaning will the wind blow and the rain come? Can Jon Rahm go back-to-back in majors? Will Bryson DeChambeau be able to silence all the noise around him? Is there a sleeper hiding in this field?
Let's see what the experts say.
It's been two years since we've had The Open. What did you miss the most?
Bob Harig: The uniqueness of links golf. It's just so different from anything we experience in the United States. The challenge presented to the players is fun to watch. If there is any amount of wind, rain, cold or even heat, it makes the difficulty that much more pronounced. Also, it's nice to see the full Open experience. Despite restrictions, there has been a full build-out of the 18th-green grandstands.
Michael Collins: The style of golf and the knowledge of the fans. We just don't play the "ground game" in the U.S. Fans in the U.K. understand when a shot to within 12 feet or 15 feet is great, whereas in the U.S. we are so used to seeing guys fire at flags and hit it to inches. It's amazing to watch how fast Americans get good at bump-and-run shots, even though they play them only once a year.
Mark Schlabach: Sure, there are scenic golf courses in the U.S., such as Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, but I'm not sure there's anything here like what we see in The Open rota. The rolling undulation, island-sized bunkers and ankle-deep fescue rough is just so much more appealing to the eye. I like that The Open setups traditionally require a player to use all his skills -- and not just having to blast 350-yard drives to have a chance to win.
Kevin Van Valkenburg: Creativity. Golf is the best sport when it's played on links courses because the young and old stand on equal footing. I want to see half shots and chippy 4-irons into a blustery wind. I want to see players use the contours of a fairway to set up a better approach. I want to see guys chip backward out of bunkers.
Tom VanHaaren: I don't want to say I enjoy watching professional golfers suffer, but as an amateur, it's always nice to see them make some of the mistakes we make. If the weather doesn't cooperate, we usually get to see just how hard golf really is, even for the best in the world. The creativity that is required in those conditions on this style of golf course just makes for a fun watch that can't be recreated elsewhere.
With everything that Bryson DeChambeau will be dealing with -- new caddie, unpredictable course and conditions -- how much of a factor do you think he will be this week?
Harig: Bryson is too good to overlook, but you have to wonder about his ability to adapt to this style of play. Remember, this is the rebuilt Bryson, brawny Bryson. He weighed 40 pounds fewer the last time The Open was played in 2019. Now one of his strengths is his ability to launch iron shots high into the air. That typically doesn't work at The Open. It's a ground game that requires playing the humps and bumps. Can Bryson adjust? Certainly he has the ability. But it's a fast turnaround for him.
Collins: Low expectations for Bryson. If he makes the cut, it'd be a mini-win after what we saw out of him in Detroit. DeChambeau likes to hit it high, which is the wrong type of play for an Open. He's not afraid to short-side himself around the greens, which is also the wrong mindset for the Open. What I want to see most from Bryson is joy. Once he finds joy just by being on the course, his results will start to improve.
Schlabach: The fairways at Royal St. George's are supposed to be slightly wider than they were in 2011, when Darren Clarke was one of only four players under par and won by 3 shots. I just can't see DeChambeau staying out of trouble enough to have a chance this week. He's 189th in driving accuracy and 113th in shots gained around the green. Plus, with everything going on around him, it'll give him even more things to think about -- and there's already a lot going on between his ears.
Van Valkenburg: To me, the only way Bryson contends is if he pulls a Tiger Woods at Liverpool and hits irons off every tee. Remember, The Open is where Bryson had his infamous driving-range meltdown because he was so befuddled by all the variables. In a tournament in which a good caddie can save you 3 shots a round, I don't see how he figures it out this week without Tim Tucker.
VanHaaren: I've been saying for a while that there are too many outside distractions for Bryson right now with the feud with Brooks Koepka, splitting with his caddie, all the media attention surrounding him. And he definitely pays attention to all of it. Add that in to the style of play, conditions that he'll have to deal with and trying to break in a new caddie, and I just don't think he'll have a great week.
Jon Rahm is the hottest player in the world. Can he follow his U.S. Open by winning The Open? Will he?
Harig: Definitely on both. Rahm has played solid all year, and his play at the Memorial before being disqualified was but one hint of what was coming. Obviously the U.S. Open win and the way he finished will be remembered for a long time. And while he didn't win the Scottish Open, a final-round 68 while in contention gives hope to a good week. He finished seventh in his first event following a major win and got in some good links experience in the process.
Collins: Yes and yes. Last week at the Scottish Open, all that was missing was his putter. That's what will show up this week at The Open. Then it just becomes a question of whether he's on the "right side of the draw." Rahm is ready. The question is: Will Mother Nature allow him to get two in a row?
Schlabach: The Spaniard is clearly the best player in the world, and he has slowly adapted to The Open's style of play. After three not-so-great starts, he tied for 11th at Royal Portrush two years ago, when he had three rounds under par. He ranks fifth on tour in greens in regulation (71%) and fourth in birdie average (4.39) and leads all players in shots gained total (2.02) and scoring average (69.6).
Van Valkenburg: I can't go so far as to predict Rahm will win back-to-back majors, in part because luck plays such a big factor in The Open. What if he gets the bad side of the draw? What if he gets a bad bounce or a gust of wind that leads to a maddening double-bogey? But I do think he'll be in the mix. When you hit a booming fade that you can control and you have a great short game, that's a recipe for success in any tournament.
VanHaaren: I think he can, but I don't think he will. I'm really just going off the odds here that it's really difficult to win back-to-back majors. The last to do it was Jordan Spieth when he won the 2015 Masters and went on to win the U.S. Open. Rory McIlroy did it in 2014 when he won The Open and the PGA Championship. Padraig Harrington also won consecutive majors in 2008, also winning The Open and the PGA Championship. So three guys have done it in the past 13 years. I think Rahm will be in the mix and near the top of the leaderboard, but the odds say it's difficult to win again. So I'll say no to the second part of the question.
Which under-the-radar player can make some serious noise this week?
Harig: Min Woo Lee. Until he won the Scottish Open on Sunday, Lee was having a poor year, with five missed cuts, including four in a row at the start of the season on the European Tour. Only 22, Lee, an Australian, has long been considered to have great potential, having already won the Vic Open in 2020 prior to the pandemic. His reputation is one of a solid ball striker, always helpful in the various Open conditions. And he's arriving at Royal St. George's with plenty of confidence.
Collins: Garrick Higgo. It's unreal to think that three years ago Higgo was ranked 2,006th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Seven wins later -- three so far this year -- the 39th-ranked player in the world comes into his first Open with little fanfare. Maybe it was his missed cuts at the U.S. Open and the Travelers. The last time we saw Garrick was a T-64 in Detroit, which doesn't seem like much. But watching him in person made me think he's back to where he was earlier this year. I expect big things from the young South African this week at Royal St. George's.
Schlabach: Branden Grace. The South African picked up his second Tour victory earlier this season at the Puerto Rico Open. Then he finished in a solo fourth at the Memorial and tied for seventh at the U.S. Open. He has been overshadowed by fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen in majors, but Grace is the only man to shoot a 62 in a major, in the third round at Royal Birkdale in 2017.
Van Valkenburg: Patrick Reed. There has been so much buzz about Brooks and Bryson this season, I feel like golf's original bad boy has been flying under the radar of late. Is it cheating to call a top-10 player in the world under-the-radar? Probably. But I think this course suits him well, and I've always thought his creative golf brain (which is undeniably great, despite the controversy that's dogged him) was going to get him into contention at multiple Opens. Maybe this is the week he jumps back into the conversation as one of the world's best after a quiet year.
VanHaaren: Harris English hasn't played well at past Opens, but he is on a bit of a hot streak right now. He finished third at the U.S. Open and won the Travelers at the end of June in a playoff. Maybe that doesn't carry over to this week, but he's playing well and not getting a ton of attention heading into the tournament. He has already won twice this year, so why not make a run at it again this week?
Which big name do you like the most this week? Which do you trust the least?
Harig: Rahm, of course, is the easy pick. But Xander Schauffele can't be denied for long. He keeps getting into contention at the big tournaments. Of course, he keeps falling short, too. But he had another good tournament at the Scottish Open last week, and it can't hurt to be acclimated to the time zone and similar playing conditions. I don't trust Bryson. It just seems like too much to ask. Too much drama. Too many distractions. A new caddie for someone who relies on the caddie for a lot of feedback can't be good. Nor can DeChambeau's high ball flight, which is going to need major adjusting this week.
Collins: I like Rahm the most, but there is another big name to watch -- Brooks Koepka. And it's not just because of the Bryson turmoil. It's because he's got three top-5s in his past four starts, including at two majors. I don't trust Collin Morikawa. His T-71 last week at the Scottish Open did not inspire confidence for me, since this is his first appearance in The Open. The last thing the kid from Southern California is going to embrace is Open weather. If he is on the wrong side of the draw, forget contending; he'll be going home for the weekend.
Schlabach: Rahm is the obvious choice for the player I trust the most. DeChambeau is probably the player I have the most questions about for reasons such as the turmoil surrounding his caddie, his beef with Koepka and his poor performances in majors since his win at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. His style of play doesn't fit The Open.
Van Valkenburg: I don't know that I'd ever have the confidence to pick him to win, but Lee Westwood will totally be in contention again. He's just too good with his irons not to be. As for whom I trust the least, I remain confounded by what's going on with Dustin Johnson, who has just one top-10 in his past 10 starts. It feels like grabbing a second major sapped his motivation. We thought he was poised to go on a heater, and he's been just middling ever since. I need to see some results before I start believing again. The Open isn't a place to suddenly find your game.
VanHaaren: I picked Brooks Koepka as the winner in our picks post, so I'll stick with him. Koepka finished fourth in the U.S. Open and second in the PGA Championship. In his past four tournaments, he has missed the cut once and finished top-five in the other three. The player I don't trust is his archnemesis, DeChambeau. For the reasons I listed above, I just think there's too much going on with DeChambeau for him to have the focus to win a major championship like this one right now.
Who walks away with the Claret Jug?
Harig: Rahm. It's probably too obvious, which doesn't always work out well. But Rahm is hard to pass by given the circumstances. His game is in top form and he had a good week at the Scottish Open, where he could get acclimated to the time zone and similar links conditions. And he just won the last major championship, helping free him of any mental burden. Now he's in great shape to go get another one.
Collins: Rahm. What makes him so good? His ability to adapt quickly. Rahm's ballstriking was almost as good last week during the Scottish Open as it was at the U.S. Open. The speed of the greens resulted in abysmal putting. Does anyone doubt he'll make the adjustment at Royal St. George's? Combine fantastic ballstriking with just "good" putting, and Rahmbo wins his second major in a row.
Schlabach: I'll step out on a limb and not pick Rahm. I like Jordan Spieth's chances this week. His ballstriking and touch around the green have helped him on links-style courses. Those are two big reasons he won at Royal Birkdale four years ago. Since he ended a nearly four-year drought without a victory at the Valero Texas Open in May, he hasn't missed a cut and has finished in the top 20 in five of six starts.
Van Valkenburg: Spieth is my pick, even though I certainly don't trust him the way I trust Rahm to contend. I've just felt, even years out, this course was going to be his kind of Open venue. All he needs is a good putting week and he'll be right there. He could have won at St. Andrews and Carnoustie, and he did win at Birkdale. He's played well in two majors this year despite very mediocre putting. I'm sure it will be another wild ride on the roller coaster that is the Spieth Golf Experience, with wild drives and heroic recoveries, long putts made and short putts missed. But if he gets in the mix, I'm back on the Spieth train.
VanHaaren: Koepka. I mentioned his past four tournaments above, but this is also one of the majors he hasn't won yet. He talks about how much the majors mean to him, so he has to start adding more trophies at some point from either The Open or The Masters, and this would be a good place for him to start.