As far as Open fields go, the 149th edition of golf’s original Major is up there with its deepest yet. The line-up is filled with star quality from top to bottom and although ordinarily it would be a surprise to see a debutant lifting the Claret Jug, the calibre of this year’s contenders mean such happenings are a distinct possibility in Sandwich.
American Ben Curtis was the last player to win first time out at The Open in 2013, joining the likes of Sam Snead in 1946, Ben Hogan in 1953 and Tom Watson in 1975. Not bad company to keep! Here we’ve picked out three live chances on debut who could also make it first time lucky at Royal St George’s:
When you think first-timer, you automatically conjure thoughts of doubt. The right temperament for a Major? The ability to cope under pressure down the stretch? A lack of experience counting against them? In Collin Morikawa’s case, already a Major winner, he ticks all the right boxes to compete at the first time of asking at an Open Championship.
The 2020 PGA Champion would’ve been amongst the favourites had the Open been staged last year, and although the 24-year old has had to bide his time due to the pandemic, there would be no great surprise to see one of the game’s supreme ball-strikers excelling on links land this week.
The game has come easy to Morikawa; after first joining the PGA Tour, he made 22 consecutive cuts from the start of his pro career, a streak bettered only by Tiger Woods (25). Yet it was his victory in the PGA Championship at Harding Park which gained him a five-year exemption into The Open that really set the American apart.
Now inside the world’s top-5 in the rankings, having put up a top-10 in his defence of the PGA Championship at a ‘linksy’ Kiawah Island, expect Morikawa’s iron-play to come to the fore at Royal St George’s in what will be his first Open appearance in a career of many.
Although his rise hasn’t been quite as steep as Morikawa’s, Viktor Hovland has quickly become one of the most consistent performances in the world of professional golf. Up to 12 in the rankings and sure to be a prominent figure in Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team, Hovland’s links prowess might be a bit of an unknown but his talent has risen to every challenge asked of it yet with two PGA Tour victories already to his name.
The Norwegian was originally eligible to play in The 148th Open at Royal Portrush following his victory in the 2018 U.S. Amateur. However, he subsequently forfeited his entry by turning professional in June 2019, a week on from placing 12th in the U.S. Open.
That decision was wholly justified with Hovland banking $678,035 from just five events in 2019 and like Morikawa, his level of performance is set to guarantee him a lengthy career full of Open championships where the firm and fast conditions are sure to suit one of golf’s purest hitters.
Frenchman Victor Perez has been a revelation with Irishman JP Fitzgerald on the bag. A leading candidate for a place on Padraig Harrington’s European Team at Whistling Straits, the 28-year old is another first timer packing plenty of experience while his success in links golf is sure to make him a popular pick at Royal St George’s.
Based in Dundee, Perez has proven pedigree having won the biggest of his titles so far at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in typically British weather across Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St. Andrews.
That breakthrough triumph in September 2019, together with a runner-up finish at the Turkish Airlines Open six weeks later, helped Perez earn a maiden Open appearance at Royal St George’s in 2021 – one he will have been waiting some two years to redeem by the time Royal St George’s rolls around.
Cemented inside the world’s top-50 and with form this year courtesy of a top-10 at The Players and a semi-final place at the WGC-Match Play, Perez certainly won’t shirk the big occasion and will no doubt relish a return to ground warfare as the week dries out in Sandwich.
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