It’s been a very good week leading up to the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews. Tiger Woods arrived in Ireland to play in the JP McManus Pro-AM at the Adare Course outside of Dublin. Tiger participated in the event and looked to be in some pain while playing and rode in a golf cart. He wanted to save his legs for the walk ahead at St. Andrews, which is the flattest and easiest course to walk in the entire Open Championship rota. Tiger is going to give this one everything he has and if he can overcome the pain, he might have a shot to contend and play the weekend. It’s not a high probability given the potential ease of St. Andrews but it has never been a smart thing to count Tiger out of any major championship. It does seem that this one might be his last hurrah.
Xander Schauffele continued his great play with a second consecutive win at the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick. Schauffele, who had won the week before in Connecticut at the Traveler’s Open, persevered through a field that battled difficult windy conditions in the final 36 to beat the field by a stroke. Schauffele grabbed the lead with a birdie on 16 and held on to win despite a closing bogey on 18. Schauffele had the lead going into the final round but the leaderboard vibrated a bit with Kurt Kitayama posting a 66 to take the clubhouse lead early at 6 under par. Kitayama will undoubtedly remember the triple bogey 7 on the 8th hole in the third round that really impacted his chances. It also looked like Jordan Speith would also eek out the victory as he entered the final round just two shots behind, but a number of errant drives and missed short putts did him in as he ballooned to 5 over par for the last four holes to finish in a tie for tenth. Schauffele will now face the curse of the Scottish Open winner. No one who was won the Scottish Open has ever won the Open Championship in the same year.
The stage is set for an exciting 150th Open Championship at the home of golf in St. Andrews. Of course, a little controversy had to be injected into the proceedings as the R&A disinvited Greg Norman from its past Champions dinner and other activities. The R&A is concerned that the focus of the week should be on the Open Championship and away from the continuing saga and antics of the LIV Tour. The US Justice Department is now looking into potential anti-trust law violations by the PGA Tour by suspending players who join the LIV. First, I think the Justice Department should be spending its time on more important issues such as prosecuting the January 6 insurrectionists. Secondly, it seems to me that PGA professionals are independent contractors and free to make their own choices. If they are violating the rules of the PGA Tour by joining the LIV Tour, they have a free choice to do so but must accept the consequences of their actions. They are not restrained from choosing what is the better option for the player. The soap opera that has engulfed professional golf will obviously continue but I think it can be set aside for this week’s Open Championship.
The iconic setting of St. Andrews will be an interesting test and scores will either be very low or surprising depending on the wind conditions. The weather will be dry with the fairways fast and running. Players will have to be accurate and will be rewarded with a number of birdie opportunities if they can execute as the length of the course (now at 7,353 yards) will not impact the players. They will need to avoid the myriad number of bunkers and place their approach shots at places where they can attack greens that are so large that four putting is always a possibility. The bunkers and seeded rough areas will cost players at least 1/2 shot so this Open will be more about shot making than sheer power.
St. Andrews is a very walkable course-flat with little distance from the green to the next tee. It has been lengthened to 7,353 yards but it will not make a difference to the players if there is no wind. Without wind, I would expect scores to be very low and it may become a drive and pitching wedge situation. The exception will be what I believe is the most difficult hole in all of golf–The Road Hole-17th hole–par 4, 459 yards. I expect it will play to a minimum of 4.6 in good conditions and higher if the wind blows. The Road Hole is full of risk/reward as the tee shot must cover the hotel on the right side of the fairway to give the player a chance to avoid the Road Hole bunker. If you’ve played the Old Course, you will see a number of cracks in the roof of the sun parlor of the hotel from tee shots that were either off line or didn’t make it. It would be interesting to note how much the hotel spends each year on replacement glass. While most if not all of that damage is caused by daily fee players, the Road Hole requires 2 outstanding shots to reach the green. I don’t suspect that there will be too many birdie opportunities here. The grind of the Road Hole is followed by the gentle 18th where players will be driving the green probably with 3 woods or even less so I don’t expect to see many shots in the Valley of Sin that has traditonally impacted past Opens.
It’s going to be hard to pick a winner this week but I believe Rory McIlroy will make a good run at the Championship. Players such as Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay, Maverick McNealy, Scottie Scheffler are playing well and should be in contention. Scheffler missed the 36 hole cut at the Scottish Open but expressed confidence that his game was ready for St. Andrews. Jordan Speith’s short game wizardry and shot making ability establishes him as another viable contender. Defending champion, Colin Morakawa, has lost some of the magic from his victory at Royal St. Georges and may not be sufficiently ready for a claret jug repeat. It should be quite a battle at the home of golf.