It’s the One, the 150th One at the place everyone wants to be. The 150th Open Championship is finally here at St Andrews, the Home of Golf as the world’s best golfers look to forever etch their name into Open Championship folklore.
Rare is it that who wins the Claret Jug isn’t entirely the primary concern but how the Old Course performs against the modern game in the midst of a distance debate over scaling back on golf equipment will also be watched closely by organisers and fans alike with rumours circulating this could be the last time someone becomes the king of this famous old town.
Tiger Woods is also in town, might it be his last Open at St Andrews. The big cat will be lurking in the long grass this week ready to pounce on a third Claret Jug.
Even if that Tiger now prowls with a limp.
Regardless of whether we have a first Irish winner of the Open Championship since Shane Lowry in 2019 it will already be a special week for Irish golf in the shape of Ronan Mullarney and David Carey whose journeyman stories on the EuroPro and Alps Tours have lead them to the holy grail of golf this week.
Mullarney and Carey join Claret Jug hunters Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Seamus Power and Pádraig Harrington while Darren Clarke returns as a past champion.
McIlroy is searching for his first Open title since winning at Hoylake in 2014 as he looks to end an eight-year major championship drought.
It’s the title defence he never had having missed the 2015 edition at St Andrews due to a freak ankle injury so his previous Open form here stretches all the way back to 2010 and his bushy haired Jumeirah days.
The Holywood native opened with a sublime 63 twelve years ago but was literally blown away on day two as he signed for an 80. He still finished third that year, eight shots behind Louis
Since 2010 Rory has enjoyed a golden run in the event with a win and three top-fives in a run of four renewals, while there’s some unfinished business to add to the equation from 2015.
Whether Rory is fresh or underprepared having skipped both the Irish and Scottish Open over the last fortnight is another question and while he seems to have overcome his sluggish starts in majors the task will be to put four rounds together after a good start.
“I’ve only played one Open here before. I got off to a great start and got caught out in wind not too dissimilar to what’s out there this week,” said McIlroy on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I’m playing well. I’m in good form. My confidence in my game is as high as it’s been in quite a while.
“I can’t go in here thinking that this might be my time. I just have to go out and play a really good tournament. I’ve got to string four good rounds together, and hopefully at the end of the week, that’s good enough to win.
“I’m happy where everything’s at, and I just can’t get ahead of myself, and just have to make sure that I prepare well the next couple of days and get myself in the right frame of mind for Thursday.”
The world number two also admitted he wasn’t too concerned whether a low score won the 150th Open or not and doesn’t believe that scores will reach the low 20s given the conditions that are forecast.
“I don’t think it matters. I don’t think you’re going to see that, though. I think with the condition of the golf course, I think with a little bit of breeze, just like I was alluding to, yeah, you can bomb it around here and hit driver and get it close to the greens, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make birdies from those positions.
“I can see it being low enough, like getting into the sort of teens, but I can’t see something in the 20-under-par range. That will win, though, obviously. It will win by quite a few. I just think with the way the golf course is playing and how firm and fast it is, it’s just going to get super tricky by the end of the week.”
Clara native Lowry returns to the site of his Open Championship debut where he finished in a respectable tie for 37th before missing the cut five years later.
It is almost three years to the day since Lowry lifted the Claret Jug on that sensational day in Portrush and it remains his latest win. Once a player who would contradict form and rise to the big occasion as his wins in Baltray, Abu Dhabi, Firestone and Portrush suggest now one of the most consistent players on the planet, racking up top-10s like they’re going out of fashion without crossing the finish line.
There is no doubt this is the major which is likely to suit him best and perhaps this venue despite missing the cut here in 2015, he has stacks of positive St Andrews experience from the Dunhill Links, in which 19 of his 21 rounds have been under par including each of his last eight.
The 150th Open Championship probably seemed a world away for Waterford’s Power but he arrives very much a major player having made three cuts in the first three major championship appearances of his career, including a top-10 at the PGA Championship and he believes he can contend on Sunday.
“Absolutely,” Power said. “As a player growing up in Britain and Ireland, it’s something you dream of. That’s the plan and the goal. Obviously, to go and win the 150th Open at St Andrews would be something for the ages.”
Despite this being his Open debut there will be plenty of home comforts for the Tooraneena native given the amount of friends and family who have made the trip over, with a few staying in the campsite in town while a number of others are in the house with the 35-year old.
A firm and fast golf course will certainly bring some outsiders into play and why not Harrington? The 50-year-old has already scooped a major title at the US Senior Open and backed that up with a solid performance at the Horizon Irish Open while a joint course record 64 at Adare Manor was further indication that the three-time major winner is in fine fettle.
The two-time Open champion missed the cut at the Scottish Open but that was no harm and in fact I think it will be of benefit to Harrington who was in need of a rest after an energy sapping few weeks.
Harrington has missed just one Open since 1996 – at St Andrews in 2005 – while he has claimed two Dunhill Links titles. Can he eclipse Phil Mickelson as the oldest major winner?
“If I could win an Open at the home of golf – I won’t say I’d retire because I wouldn’t – but it is that sort of feeling that you’ve accomplished everything you could in Open golf, to win at the home of golf,” Harrington told RTE.
“I don’t have a barrier of 50 years of age. In my head the only barrier I have to winning tournaments is a little bit of nerves, how I manage my mental side. So, it’s not a physical side that’s an issue.
“Every time I tee it up I think it’s going to be the week, I think I can do it, and it’s probably – at my stage – a little easier to win a major than it is to win a regular event because everybody else is going to be feeling it as well.”
Darren Clarke has been consistent without being spectacular on the Champions Tour in the lead up to the Open. The 2011 winner has already had his day in the sun at Royal St George’s and his eyes will be more on the Senior Open at Gleneagles.
To the two qualifiers Mullarney and Carey. Galway’s Mullarney has had little opportunity to showcase his talents since turning pro in the midst of a pandemic but, there is hardly a better place to have a breakthrough week than at the Home of Golf?
The Maynooth University graduate came through Regional Qualifying at Frilford Heath and then Final Qualifying at Prince’s, which is some effort.
Mullarney tees off in the last group and he might even hit the last ball on Thursday evening!
Finally we have Mr. 57 in the shape of Darwin Escapes pro, Carey who is Ireland’s answer to Bryson DeChambeau.
Carey is an Alps Tour winner in 2019 when shooting 57 (on a par 68) and after some journeyman years he is looking to break free from that level and really begin climbing the ladder. He dresses like Bryson and he plays like Bryson by wearing a flat cap and using single-length irons.
The Open has produced some fairytale stories outside of the winners circle so why not them?
Selected Irish tee times
08.03 Cameron Smith, Brooks Koepka, SEAMUS POWER
09.58 Collin Morikawa, RORY MCILROY, Xander Schaufffele
10.09 SHANE LOWRY, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland
13.37 DARREN CLARKE, Richard Bland, Filippo Celli
14.48 PADRAIG HARRINGTON, Thomas Pieters, Keith Mitchell
15.54 John Catlin, Jamie Rutherford, DAVID CAREY
16.16 Lars Van Meijel, Jack Floydd, RONAN MULLARNEY
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