And, just like that, the end of major season stares us in the face. Come Sunday afternoon, once the final putt drops at 149th Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, golf fans the world over will be reckoning with a nine-month major-less void.
Such is the reality of this new, compact men’s major schedule where one can hardly blink before the next massive tournament is upon us.
The first three majors of the year delivered massively: At the Masters, Hideki Matsuyama became a hero to a golf-mad nation; at the PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson laughed in the face of Father Time; at the U.S. Open, Jon Rahm conquered the sport. What, then, will transpire at the first Open Championship of the post-COVID world?
Allow us to weigh in. To help you make smarter wagers, fill out your pools or simply be a more informed viewer, Golf Digest has ranked the top 100 players teeing it up in the 15th edition of the Open at Royal St. George’s. Savour this week, golf lovers, for major-championship season will be over before you know it.
Age: 45 World Ranking: 161 Open appearances: 15
Best Open finish: WIN, 2016
He gets a spot on this list out of respect for what he’s accomplished—golf nepotism, so to speak—including setting the major championship scoring record at Royal Troon in 2016. A more meritocratic assessment would not yield pretty results: He’s made just four cuts in his last 14 starts and missed the weekend at the Scottish Open. Slumps are always concerning, but especially so when you’re closer to 50 than 40.
Age: 29 World Ranking: 101 Open appearances: First
We can’t pretend to know much about Mr. Kinoshita, but he won back-to-back starts on the Japan Tour just last month, and anyone who wins back-to-back starts on any pro tour a month before a major gets a spot in the top 100. Them’s the rules.
Age: 26 World Ranking: 130 Open appearances: First
Vanderbilt graduate twice finished third in the NCAA individual championship. Has five top-10 finishes on the European Tour this year and gets his third try at a major. The first two ended on Friday afternoon.
Age: 29 World Ranking: 145 Open appearances: 7
Best Open finish: T-26, 2014
He’s not a fan of early tee times, as we learned recently, but he’ll also be disappointed in his play over the past year-plus. With just one top-10 since February 2020, he’s tumbled down the World Ranking and, after this, can no longer count on playing the majors each year. Putting continues to be an Achilles Heel—he’s 205th on tour strokes gained on the greens—and he’ll need some late-season success to make the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 77 Open appearances: 4
Best Open finish: T-12, 2016
Got a spot in the field when the two Korean players, Sungjae Im and Si-Woo Kim, opted to skip the Open to focus on the Olympics, where a medal would exempt them from mandatory military service. Grillo has three top-10 finishes this year, including a T-2 at the RBC Heritage, but comes in off three missed cuts and has not managed a single top-10 in 18 career major starts.
Age: 33 World Ranking: 109 Open appearances: 8
Best Open finish: T-6, 2019
Been a tumultuous year for the former Masters champ. We’ll let the man himself tell you all about it. From a tweet dated June 8: “So the pain that kept me awake most of Saturday night turned out to be appendicitis! Operation went well, also removed a hernia, add it to having Covid in March, wisdom tooth out in April…all in all, been a great year!” There’s nothing quite like British sarcasm. Made the cut, impressively, in his first start after that operation at the Rocket Mortgage Classic but looked off at the Scottish Open.
Age: 25 World Ranking: 80 Open appearances: First
He’s been the best player on the Japan Tour, and the best player on the Japan Tour gets into major championships. Missed the cut at Kiawah but showed really well at Torrey Pines, finishing a confidence-boosting T-26.
Age: 40 World Ranking: 142 Open appearances: 10
Best Open finish: T-3, 2012
Steadily sliding down the World Ranking and, given his age, you wonder if his best years might be in the rearview mirror. He’s still competitive on shorter, more benign tracks but does not have a major top-10 since 2017 and has missed the cut in six of his 10 Open Championship starts.
Age: 33 World Ranking: 113 Open appearances: 3
Best Open finish: T-35, 2018
Two-time Presidents Cupper comes in having missed six of his last nine cuts and while he’s played a bunch of major weekends, his best finish in 17 career attempts is a T-24.
Age: 34 World Ranking: 4 Open appearances: 4
Best Open finish: T-16, 2019
Long-hitter from New Zealand has finished T-14 or better in four of his last seven European Tour events. He’s also made the weekend in three of his four Open Championship starts, including a T-16 at Royal Portrush in 2019.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 125 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-41, 2019
The reigning champion of the best-named tournament in world golf: The Magical Kenya Open presented by Johnnie Walker, of course. Got as high as World No. 42 during a hot stretch in 2019 but has cooled considerably since to fade outside the top 100.
Age: 25 World Ranking: 141 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: MC 2018, 2019
He’s got plenty of time to figure it out, but the young man from Thailand has not yet blossomed into the player we expected him to. Six-time winner on the Asian Tour is now playing full-time on the European Tour and ranks 57th in the Race to Dubai, thanks mainly to a runner-up finish in Kenya.
Age: 30 World Ranking: 87 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: T-66, 2016
Serial hot-starter has a lone top-10 in 16 starts this year but it was a T-2 at the RBC Heritage and thus ranks a comfortable 71st in the FedEx Cup standings. Such is life on the PGA Tour, where the non-superstars make seemingly 80 percent of their hay in 10 percent of their starts.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 81 Open appearances: First
Boasts two European Tour wins since last December, the most recent of which came by one shot after he holed a 60-footer on the 72nd hole. That’s decent, as they say in these parts.
Age: 41 World Ranking: 62 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: 4, T-30
A 40-plus guy who won this year, and did so to end a seven-year winning drought on the PGA Tour. In the context of golf in 2021, that is, like, so basic. Does not have a top 25 in his eight starts since. The oh-so-knowledgeable Open Championship fans will appreciate his breakneck pace of play.
Age: 23 World Ranking: 85 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
Former World No. 1 amateur won two of his first seven events on the Japan Tour after turning pro, which got him inside the top 100 in the World Ranking in a hurry. Has spent the summer playing in the U.S. (MC at the Memorial and the U.S. Open) and Europe (T-17 at the BMW International, T-28 at the Irish Open), and you get the sense he won’t call the Japan Tour home for much longer. One great week in Sandwich could ensure that.
Age: 31 World Ranking: 91 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-11, 2017
Might be the most linebacker-looking guy in the field this side of Bryson. Enjoyed a cup of (iced) coffee at Arizona State before heading overseas, where he’s been for the better part of a decade. Five-time winner on the Japan Tour has flashed plenty of potential against the big boys—a T-11 at the 2017 Open, a T-23 at this year’s PGA and played his way into this year’s U.S. Open through Final Qualifying.
Age: 34 World Ranking: 63 Open appearances: First
Co-led after 54 holes at the U.S. Open and hung around Sunday until his ball bounced off a cart path, into a tree and never came down. That surprise week at Torrey Pines came off five straight missed cuts but seems to have been a turning point—he’s made the weekend in both starts since and finished T-14 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 81 Open appearances: 5
Best Open finish: T-12, 2016
Former Ryder Cupper looks to have put a tough stretch behind him—he’s missed just two cuts on the European Tour this year, although one of those was in last week’s Scottish Open.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 124 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
UNLV grad from California is part of the small crew of Americans playing the European Tour. He’s making a nice living in Europe, with three top-10s including a runner-up this season, but he’d love to get back home and play the PGA Tour. A home-run week, to use a Yankee term, at Royal St. George’s is the perfect place to start.
Age: 36 World Ranking: 65 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-19, 2014
Began the year with a runner-up at the Sony Open in Hawaii, which all but assured he’ll make the FedEx Cup playoffs and keep full status for another year. Creeping up there in age and has not won on tour in six years. First British Open start since 2016.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 188 Open appearances: 7
Best Open finish: T-32, 2019
Given name is—deeeeeep breath—Willibrordus Adrianus Luiten, so that’s fun. The Dutchman has enjoyed a lovely career in Europe, winning six times on the Old World circuit and consistently qualifying for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship. He’s posted a bunch of finishes in the T-7 to T-15 range this year, but on the European Tour you have needed top-threes to do any real damage in the World Ranking. As such, he’s dropped more than 100 spots since Royal Portrush.
Age: 26 World Ranking: 107 Open appearances: First
Young Englishman has worn two rain gloves while playing since he was 8. Played excellent golf last fall in Europe—a runner-up at the Irish Open, beating Tommy
Fleetwood in a playoff to win the Scottish Open, and a solo third at the Scottish Championship. (This came during that strange post-COVID stretch when European Tour events had to get creative with names).
Age: 30 World Ranking: 57 Open appearances: First
Affable Mexican player gets his first start in an Open Championships thanks largely to his victory at last year’s Houston Open. He’s yet to finish better than T-52 in his six starts at the U.S.-based majors, so maybe the U.K. will treat him more kindly.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 86 Open appearances: First
Came out on the wrong end of the three-man playoff at the Rocket Mortgage, but it was enough to get into the Open field after a trio of late withdrawals. Has four finishes of T-8 or better in what’s been an under-the-radar but very solid year.
Age: 39 World Ranking: 163 Open appearances: 3
Best Open finish: MC, 2012, 2018, 2019
Had missed the cut in six straight events when he shot 12 under to be co-medalist at the ultra-loaded Columbus site for U.S. Open Final Qualifying. That showing promised better days ahead, which has indeed been the case—he finished T-14 at Congaree and made the cut at the U.S Open before a T-25 at the Travelers. We love a good Final Qualifying anecdote.
Age: 33 World Ranking: 128 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2018
Got a kick out of this—he was asked a couple weeks back how he spent his paycheck after winning the Porsche European Open last month, which punctuated a meandering journey through poverty, grief and the mini-tours. His answer: “I just went nuts in the U.S Open tent, in the merchandise tent. You can definitely tell I’ve been to a U.S. Open now.” He’s played in an Open before this one, so perhaps he can avoid similar retail therapy.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 69 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-12, 2015
He’s the shortest full-time player on the PGA Tour at 274.1 yards per drive, so weeks like these—when length isn’t the advantage it is on your run-of-the-mill PGA Tour venue—must jump off his calendar page. This will mark his first Open since 2015; all he did in-between was fall off the face of the professional-golf planet then win back-to-back PGA Tour events. Just one top-10 in 16 starts this year, though, and missed the cut at Kiawah and Torrey.
Age: 43 World Ranking: 64 Open appearances: 15
Best Open finish: 2, 2017
Trudging through his worst season in more than a decade; his last top-10 in a stroke-play event came in February 2020. Has not played much recently—he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, finished T-50 at Colonial, withdrew from the Memorial and missed the cut at U.S. Open. At this age, his lack of length puts pressure on the rest of his game, and he simply cannot afford the type of mediocre putting season (94th in strokes gained) he’s having. He does, however, have three top-10s in Open Championships including a heartbreaking runner-up to Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale in 2017.
Kevin C. Cox
Age: 33 World Ranking: 74 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-58, 2015
Goes about his business on tour without much fanfare, but he’s had a solid career and holds the somewhat dubious distinction of having the most career earnings without a victory. In contrast, he’s had a turbulent history in majors. Signed a wrong scorecard at the 2020 PGA and was subsequently disqualified—and that was actually the second time he’d been DQ’d from the PGA after a similar mishap, albeit days after the tournament finished, in 2014. At this year’s PGA, he opened with a solid 70 only to make a 10 and two doubles en route to a front-nine 48 on Sunday. Let’s hope this one goes a bit smoother.
Age: 33 World Ranking: 78 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
One of the tour’s best Twitter follows and most popular players among his peers. Late bloomer nabbed his first PGA Tour win at the opposite-field event in the Dominican Republic in March and has made the cut in five of six starts since. Doesn’t have a massive game but tends to keep things in front of him, and as such, he’s had some success on demanding layouts. Arrived in the U.K. early to acclimate and play some links golf on his way to Sandwich.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 75 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
At the time of writing, he was firmly in the mix at the John Deere Classic—great news for a player struggling to replicate his 2019-20 campaign, which lasted until the Tour Championship, but you can’t help but be concerned about his energy levels come Thursday given the emotional toll of contending and the physical toll of flying eight-odd hours through the night and adjusting to the time change.
Age: 32 World Ranking: 73 Open appearances: First
Pretty close to what you’d consider an average PGA Tour player—which, of course, is great work if you can get it, as he’s north of $1.5 million in earnings for the season. Has two top-10s on the wraparound campaign and sits right in the middle of the FedEx Cup standings at 74th. Will be a thrill for him to play in his first Open, as he toiled on the mini-tours for many years and even caddied for some cash before his breakthrough a few years ago.
Age: 31 World Ranking: 93 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-17, 2018
His first full season as a PGA Tour member has been marred by uneven play and a nagging back issue, which has kept him out since the U.S. Open. Does have top-20 finishes in the two British Opens he’s played in, as well as some other really solid finishes in big events, but it’s getting to be crunch time as far as securing decent status for next year. Missed cut in both majors he’s played in 2021, one rather ignominiously.
Age: 34 World Ranking: 25 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: T-20, 2015
The Florida boy has England ties … kind of. He’s been a fan of West Ham United FC after watching Green Street Hooligans as a college kid, and West Ham FC finished a very solid sixth in the Premier League this year. Unfortunately, on the golf front, his forays into the United Kingdom have yielded five missed cuts in six Open starts.
Age: 45 World Ranking: 122 Open appearances: 16
Best Open finish: WIN, 2015
Won this event six years ago at St. Andrews and has a sneaky great history in the major, despite a missed cut in his last go at Royal Portrush. Before that, he’d finished T-17 or better in seven of eight Opens. He’s got a dependable, lowish draw that he trusts and cuts through the wind well—and his career reaching Ryder/Presidents Cup captain territory, there’s plenty left in the tank. Will he win? Almost certainly not. Could he provide some serious DFS juice for a low-low price? Awww, yeah.
Age: 36 World Ranking: 79 Open appearances: 11
Best Open finish: T-7, 2010
He has Kevin Na to thank for his spot in the field, as the American decided the COVID restrictions were too cumbersome to make the trip. Finished runner-up to Viktor Hovland at home in Germany a couple weeks back, which did great things for the former No. 1’s sagging World Ranking, but was generally unremarkable at the Irish Open (T-41) and the Scottish Open (MC). Padraig Harrington recently tabbed him as an assistant for this year’s Ryder Cup—he’s a bit young for that role and says he still harbors hopes of making the team as a player.
Age: 49 World Ranking: 162 Open appearances: 23
Best Open finish: WIN, 2007, 2008
Phil hogged the headlines, and rightfully so, but Captain Paddy’s T-4 at Kiawah was every bit as shocking. It was his first major start since Royal Portrush in 2019. He was ranked 257th in the world. His most recent top-10 on the PGA Tour was in January 2016. He missed the cut in the week prior … and proceeded to miss his next four, as well. A truly relentless tinkerer, he’s practicing as hard as ever despite becoming senior tour-eligible on Aug. 31 and saw some nice progress at the Scottish Open. Some guys are simply addicted to the grind. Oh, and there’s also the whole two-time Open champion thing.
Padraig Harrington. Photo by Golffile
Age: 38 World Ranking: 137 Open appearances: 12
Best Open finish: WIN, 2018
His Sunday stroll at Carnoustie, which came with Tiger Woods at his side, will go down as one of the better final-round performances in Open history. A lot has transpired since: He blew the Masters, fell into a deep slump, moved his family from London to Los Angeles, and has since emerged from said slump. Well, kind of. He has four finishes of T-13 or better this year but plenty of missed cuts mixed in, and he’s got serious work to do if he’s to get a chance to follow up his all-time performance in the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Age: 37 World Ranking: 66 Open appearances: 8
Best Open finish: T-12, 2016
The first of his eight Open starts came here at Royal St. George’s in 2011. More than two years now since he won his major and he hasn’t really contended for a title since 2019. Two MCs and a T-50 in his last three starts hardly qualifies as ideal prep.
Age: 51 World Ranking: 31 Open appearances: 26
Best Open finish: WIN, 2013
Made a mockery of the entire sports-forecasting business with his shock victory at Kiawah, the latest chapter in a hugely compelling career. He said that day that it might jumpstart a fruitful spell, or that he may never win again, a remarkably self-aware statement while still basking in the afterglow of major No. 6. He’s not played well since—MC/T-62/T-61/T-74—and spent the better part of Rocket Mortgage week crusading against a local news story, then carried The Match broadcast but lost again alongside Tom Brady. Never a dull moment with Lefty. He “only” has four top-10s in 26 career Open starts, which is less than half his top-10 haul at each of the other three majors, but he did win at Muirfield in 2013 and houses a Scottish Open trophy on his mantle.
Age: 31 World Ranking: 60 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-51, 2019
Playing a U.S.-heavy schedule these days and he’s faring just fine, but he’s not been the consistent contender he was back on the European Tour—which is no surprise, really, given the difference in depths of fields. Was probably the biggest snub in the 2018 Ryder Cup cycle and has work to do to even get onto the bubble for the upcoming matches. Missed back-to-back cuts in the States before squeaking into the weekend at the Scottish Open.
Age: 36 World Ranking: 24 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-32, 2019
He’s in the two-wins-this-season-club and thus finds himself within shouting distance of the Ryder Cup, but you get the sense he’d need to qualify on points to get a tee time at Whistling Straits. He’s got a formidable one-two punch, ranking 22nd in SG/off the tee and fifth in SG/putting. We’re just not quite sure the big man from Ohio, who likes to launch it way up into that American sky, has the type of game that translates well to tricky Open layouts.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 59 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: T-32, 2014
Put simply: The man wins. A lot. A little more context: He does so overseas. Won his fourth European Tour title in 25 months in Denmark just a few weeks ago. He hasn’t been able to replicate that kind of success in the U.S. nor in events with stronger fields—his next top-10 in a major will be his first, and it’s not for lack of attempts.
Age: 48 World Ranking: 105 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-22, 2017
The darling of the U.S. Open, he cut an irresistibly charming figure with his dad hat and his grey-speckled stubble. It was also a case-study in just how long 72 holes is, as his co-lead after 36 holes turned into a T-50 thanks to a 11-over-par weekend. Still, those dream two days weren’t all that much of an aberration given his recent play—he came in off a win and a T-3, and he posted a T-4 in the Irish Open in his first post-Torrey start. A player in form gets just his third crack at his country’s national open at the ripe age of 48.
Age: 40 World Ranking: 45 Open appearances: 18
Best Open finish: T-2, 2018
He’s shown flashes of the quality that saw him win the FedEx Cup and summit the World Ranking in 2018—mainly, four top-10 finishes in his last seven major starts—but the consistency, once a hallmark of his game, just isn’t there anymore. Missed the cut by nine at Torrey Pines and finished T-36 at the Travelers in his last pre-Open start.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 38 Open appearances: First
If you don’t count Will Zalatoris, Perez is the highest-ranked player in the Open field without a PGA Tour card. Seemed poised to lock up status through non-member points after finishing T-9 at the Players and fourth at the WGC-Match Play, but the Frenchman’s seen some massive opportunities come and go by missing the cut in the Masters, PGA, Memorial and U.S. Open. Been based in Scotland since he graduated New Mexico but didn’t emerge until late 2019, which explains why he’s never played an Open before.
Age: 33 World Ranking: 68 Open appearances: 9
Best Open finish: T-4, 2015
Not a young 33, is he? Partially because he broke through so young—he finished T-30 at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s—but also because his ever-troublesome back will not leave his golf game alone. He’s said himself he’s embarrassed with his World Ranking, but the last two starts have been positive: a T-10 at the Travelers, despite hobbling the entire week, and a T-14 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where he spoke of being reinvigorated by his 7-year-old’s son burgeoning interest in the game. Has 16 top-10s in majors but only one in an Open; he’s a high-ball, high-spin player, and this type of golf isn’t quite his cup of tea.
Age: 32 World Ranking: 54 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: T-20, 2015
The three players listed directly after him in SG/approach this season: Justin Thomas, Will Zalatoris and Jon Rahm. Iron play is historically the best indicator of a world-class golfer, and while Henley has had his moments throughout his career—most recently sharing the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open just last month—the rest of his game tends to lag behind. Didn’t qualify for Royal Portrush so this will be his first Open start since 2018.
Age: 24 World Ranking: 34 Open appearances: First
The injury bug struck at the worst possible time, as he was pushing for a Ryder Cup spot and shooting up the World Ranking. He’d won his first PGA Tour event at the Valspar, then followed it up with a solo second at the AT&T Byron Nelson before slipping and re-aggravating an old back injury at Kiawah. Luckily didn’t miss much time, but his momentum hit a wall with a T-50 at the Memorial and a missed cut at the U.S. Open. Bounced back with a T-13 at the Travelers, and makes Open debut as something of a question mark—but also a dark horse.
Age: 44 World Ranking: 58 Open appearances: 9
Best Open finish: T-17, 2018
He’s not quite 10 percent to Tiger’s record, but he does lead the PGA Tour currently in consecutive made cuts at 14. Was perhaps the best iron player out there from February through May and ranks 12th in that stat for the season; it turns out a delightfully simple swing ages quite well. Who’d have thunk?
Age: 32 World Ranking: 98 Open appearances: First
A feel-good story of a guy who hovered around the world No. 200 range (or worse) for nearly a decade before breaking through at 32. The Aussie has four-top 10 finishes in Europe this year, including in his two starts heading into the Scottish Open, and showed well in finishing T-23 at Kiawah.
Age: 38 World Ranking: 26 Open appearances: 9
Best Open finish: T-6, 2017
He’s dropped a level from his peak a few years ago but it hasn’t been anything catastrophic—he has 10 top-25 finishes in 21 starts on the PGA Tour this year and was T-4 in his last event at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Has just two top-10s in 29 career major starts but both came in Open Championships. Missed the cut at Royal St. George’s in 2011.
Age: 44 World Ranking: 36 Open appearances: 13
Best Open finish: T-30, 2016
Played some seriously consistent golf toward the latter half of 2020 and carried into the opening months of 2021—he got all the way to World No. 24 after a T-2 at Torrey Pines in January—but does not have a top-10 since then and missed the cut at the PGA and U.S. Open. If you’re a fan of coincidences, he’s finished exactly T-30 in three of his five starts in the Open Championship.
Age: 30 World Ranking: 42 Open appearances: First
Didn’t quite crack the field for Royal Portrush but has reached another since then, and so this will mark his Open debut. He’s been a high-beta player this year—the good weeks have been very good, but he’s also missed the cut in six of his last nine starts. And speaking of six missed cuts … he’s missed the cut in his last six major starts. Is it nerves? Is he trying too hard? Or is it just golf, a smallish sample size, and a case begging for a regression to the mean?
Age: 22 World Ranking: 39 Open appearances: First
Came to Congaree hoping to keep his game sharp between the PGA and U.S. Open, which he qualified for by winning two European Tour events in the spring. All he did that week was win again, and immediately lock up full PGA Tour status. Rest? Enjoy the accomplishment? Nah—he’s played every week since. Oh, to be young, flexible, and playing on house money. This will mark the first of likely many Open Championships for the South African, who spent a year-plus at UNLV before heading home to turn pro.
Age: 29 World Ranking: 37 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
Strikes the ball like a top-five player in the world, but golfing greatness comprises more than just flushing baby draw after baby draw. At Kiawah, he showed what he’s capable of when the putter heats up; his opening-round 65 was two better than anyone else on that wind-swept day. Yet he still lost strokes putting to the field that week, which has been a theme throughout his career and into this season. Opened with 76 at the Scottish Open and rebounded with 65, but it still wasn’t enough to make the weekend.
Age: 48 World Ranking: 43 Open appearances: 21
Best Open finish: WIN, 2009
It was at this tournament that he claimed his biggest career win while breaking the hearts of millions when he denied 59-year-old Tom Watson a sixth Open victory. Cink is now something of an elder statesman himself but the golf ball cares not of age, and Cink’s one of just five players with multiple wins on the PGA Tour this season. Has made eight consecutive cuts dating back to the Players Championship and shot three rounds of 68 or better in his last start at the Travelers. Could old-man lightning strike twice in one major season? It’d certainly fit with the tenor of this year, and Cink’s in better form than Phil was …
Age: 27 World Ranking: 47 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
Continues to prove he can hang in the biggest events, but seems magnetized to T-30 on the leader board. Has made the cut in 19 straight starts worldwide, including the first three majors of 2021. As a result, he’s second in non-member FedEx points (behind a certain Willy Z) and a strong finish to the season could see him get his PGA Tour card, which is his goal. Interestingly, he’s lost strokes off the tee in 16 of his last 18 measured events—you almost never see those kinds of stats for a player of his consistency.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 76 Open appearances: 7
Best Open finish: T-15, 2015
Only Collin Morikawa and Paul Casey have been better with their approach play this PGA Tour season. Gained nearly 11 shots tee-to-green in his last start, at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and would’ve been right near the lead if he’d putted better. But that’s been a big “if” throughout his career. You really do wonder how much he might have achieved if the anchoring ban never came down.
Age: 40 World Ranking: 41 Open appearances: 20
Best Open finish: 2, 2012
Hasn’t been able to build anything resembling momentum since the COVID hiatus, which halted a really strong run of play for the Aussie. He’s made 17 of 18 cuts since the restart but has just one top-10 finish, and it was a T-10. Most of the (relative) struggles have been with the driver—he’s 139th on tour in SG/off the tee—which is all the proof you need that your eyes do, indeed, deceive you. Bogeying his final four holes to blow a four-shot lead in 2012 is, sadly, his biggest Open memory.
Age: 27 World Ranking: 29 Open appearances: 3
Best Open finish: T-20, 2019
Seven finishes of T-30 or better in his last 11 starts, including a win alongside Marc Leishman in the Zurich Classic, as he’s proven the T-2 at the 2020 Masters was not flukey in the slightest. Ball-striking can sometimes get a bit loose but links courses do usually provide some room, and his wedge play and creativity around the greens stand up to anyone’s. Plenty of experience playing in the wind having grown up in Queensland, and, per Fantasy National, he fares best on “windy AF days.” This, then, would seem a decent fit.
Age: 32 World Ranking: 95 Open appearances: 10
Best Open finish: T-2, 2014
His first top-10 in a major championship came at … you guessed it, Royal St. George’s. He was a long-haired, orange-splattered 22-year-old then, and if I told you he’d return 10 years later at World No. 95 and with zero majors to his name, you’d have told me to jump in the North Sea. Even crazier: This isn’t rock bottom. He seems to be past that point, with three solid finishes in his last four starts, including a T-8 at the PGA Championship. A creative player at heart, he loves playing links golf and has made the cut in nine of his 10 Open starts. All this to say: We are (very) cautiously optimistic about Rickie’s chances this week.
Age: 42 World Ranking: 52 Open appearances: 11|
Best Open finish: T-23, 2012
He’s playing better than his ranking suggests. Imploded on the back nine at the Travelers otherwise that T-19 would’ve been way better, and closed with an eight-under 64 at the Rocket Mortgage. Works the ball more than anyone on tour and finished a solid T-30 at Royal St. George’s a decade ago. He’s missed more cuts (six) than he’s made (five) in Open Championships but we like him to even the score this time around.
Age: 33 World Ranking: 61 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: T-6, 2017
On the comeback trail indeed. Former shoe-in for Presidents Cup teams dropped to No. 147 in the world before a resurgent couple of months—he won the Puerto Rico Open in March and comes in off two great finishes in huge events, a solo fourth at the Memorial and a T-7 at the U.S. Open. Ranks 10th on tour in SG/overall over his last 24 rounds and is hitting his irons at an elite level. His lone top-10 in an Open Championship came in large part due to his 62 at Royal Birkdale, still the lowest round in major championship history.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 46 Open appearances: 5
Best Open finish: T-26, 2014
Quietly having a really consistent and overall impressive year. Caught fire with a T-3/T-5 run in the spring to sneak into the top 50 in the world and make the Masters, and has finished T-19 or better in six of his seven starts since, including at Augusta and Torrey Pines. Not going to overpower any golf course but he’s armed with a top-five short game on Tour, at least statistically. This tournament should play into his hands, but he’s missed four Open cuts in a row after a solid debut back in 2014.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 55 Open appearances: 4
Best Open finish: T-12, 2016
We learned this the hard way: it’s actually pronounced Her-burt, despite looking for all the world like a French air-bear situation. He’s Australian, after all. In more germane matters, won his second European Tour title at the Irish Open two weeks ago and is on the cusp of getting into the world top 50, which brings a whole mess of spoils—auto-invite into majors, WGCs, etc.
Age: 24 World Ranking: 71 Open appearances: First
Emerged as a fun story at Torrey Pines, where his T-4 finish and his distinctly Italian name made for great meme fodder. He sandwiched that week at the U.S. Open with back-to-back solo seconds coming in and a very solid T-13 at the Travelers the week after, and he’s now entered the Ryder Cup chat. In related news, he was paired with Padraig Harrington at last week’s Scottish Open. Won two European Tour events in the months leading up to the 2019 Open but somehow did not qualify, so this’ll be his first go in the world’s oldest golf tournament.
Age: 37 World Ranking: 48 Open appearances: 5
Best Open finish: T-2, 2015
Each time a major rolls around, we’re reminded of his diatribe back in 2019, when he told Barstool Sports he has “no chance” to win one. The Open presents his best opportunity though, with its tendency to level the distance playing field, and he played in the final group of the 2018 edition at Carnoustie. He’s riding back-to-back top-10 finishes at the Travelers and Rocket Mortgage and needs to continue the excellent form if he’s to have a real shot at making the Ryder Cup team. It would not feel right for Kisner, who relishes match play and is damn good at it, to end his career without playing in at least one Ryder Cup.
Age: 24 World Ranking: 51 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: T-6, 2019
Scotland’s great hope made his major debut at the last Open Championship, where he shot a three-under final round—completed before the weather turned venomous—catapulted him all the way to a T-6 finish. He’s improved steadily since then and has made the weekend in each of his four major starts since, but he hasn’t quite been able to content in any elite-field events just yet.
Age: 27 World Ranking: 6 Open appearances: 3
Best Open finish: T-51, 2018
It’s been a strange few weeks for golf’s reigning Headline King. Was marching to repeat glory at the U.S. Open before a back-nine 44, which he attributed to bad luck. Two weeks later, at the Rocket Mortgage, he and his caddie split sometime between Wednesday’s practice round and Thursday’s tee time. In steps Bryan Zeigler to the role, which is perhaps the most demanding lopping job in world golf given Bryson’s number-based approach and propensity for practicing deep into the night. Has a poor history at this tournament—he’s missed the cut twice in three starts, and the time he did make it, Golf Channel cameras caught him having something of a meltdown on the Carnoustie practice tee. This will mark his first foray into links golf with his new body and speed, and the contrast between his distinctly modern game and the ancient links presents a fascinating dynamic.
Age: 24 World Ranking: 30 Open appearances: First
The Zalatoris train finally hit something of a roadblock. It happened after his T-8 at the PGA, which brought inside the top 30 in the World Ranking—which sounds right, given the media attention he’s received this year, but keep in mind that 12 months ago he was preparing for title sponsor-less TPC San Antonio Championship at the Oaks. Took T-59 on his home turf at Colonial, then missed the cut at the U.S. Open, then shot 74-76 on the weekend at Rocket Mortgage while everyone else bathed in birdies. Over his last seven starts he’s lost an average of 2.24 shots to the field putting, which is hard to overcome even with his caliber of iron play. If you’re looking for reasons to believe (and the last year isn’t enough for you), how about this: the sample size is small, but in rounds classified as “Windy AF” by Fantasy National, he’s gaining over two and a half shots on his competitors. Like coastal England, wind is constantly a factor where he grew up playing in Dallas. The similarities between the two locales end there.
Age: 25 World Ranking: 19 Open appearances: First
Part of the not-small contingent of players who have become household names—in golf households, at least—only in the past 24 months, and thus haven’t played an Open Championship yet. Played the Scottish Open to get familiar with links golf and, while it was soft and windless on Friday, an eight-under 63 never hurts the old ego. Has a big game and makes a boatload of birdies, and he’s been T-19 or better in each of his last five major starts. Still looking for win No. 1 on the PGA Tour, and he’s plenty capable of making the debut a big, big one.
Age: 35 World Ranking: 15 Open appearances: 7
Best Open finish: T-13, 2016
It’s been a good-not-great year. He hasn’t really contended for a title after a two-win 2020, and he comes in after missing back-to-back missed cuts for the first time in nearly five years. “Just a little bit off,” is how the mild-mannered North Carlina boy would put it. Record at the Open does not inspire much optimism; he’s yet to post a top-10 in eight starts, though he has made the weekend seven times—including way back in 2011 at Royal St. George’s, where he took T-16 in an impressive Open debut.
Age: 34 World Ranking: 44 Open appearances: 8
Best Open finish: WIN, 2019
Twenty-four months later, he finally gets his crack at a title defence. He’ll never equal the sheer ecstasy of that week at Royal Portrush—that’s not a dig at him, but an acknowledgement of the story-book nature of it all: an Irishman wins the Open by six, on the Irish island. (Yes, we know it was north of the border, but the Northerners treated him as their own all week). There was indeed a bit of a post-win hangover and while his World Ranking continues to slip, he’s actually been pretty solid over the past four months, with 10 consecutive made cuts worldwide including four top-10s. Has gained ground with his approach play in seven consecutive measured starts, and if he continues to do that kind of iron work while maintaining his all-world short game, a repeat is far from impossible.
Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile
Age: 30 World Ranking: 33 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: 2, 2019
Slowly sliding down the World Ranking as he’s managed just two stroke-play top-10s in 13 starts this calendar year and ranks 125th in the FedEx Cup standings, putting him in danger of missing the playoffs. He finished fifth in the Olympic standings for Team Great Britain but had his number called when Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood all passes. His ball-striking numbers have taken a significant dip this year, as he ranks 154th in SG/off the tee and 104th in SG/approach. Began his Open Championship career with three missed cuts but has steadily improved since, culminating in a solo second—albeit, six back of Shane Lowry—at Royal Portrush.
Age: 45 World Ranking: 56 Open appearances: 18
Best Open finish: 2, 2008
Padraig Harrington all but assured he’ll get a Ryder Cup captain’s pick so long as he’s in even decent form, and through two rounds at the Scottish Open the form looked decent indeed. At 45, the Ryder Cup legend will know this might be his last crack at it. The motivation, then, could not be higher, and he was in great position heading into the weekend at the Scottish Open. Englishman has three top-10s in Opens, including a solo second in 2008, but none since 2013 and he’s actually missed the cut in four of his last five tries at the Open. Short game has been his saving grace this season: he’s 21st on tour in SG/around the green and sixth in SG/putting.
Age: 37 World Ranking: 32 Open appearances: 8
Best Open finish: T-2, 2015
There’s some horse-for-course tendencies here—three of his six top-10s in majors have come at the Open, highlighted by a runner-up finish at St. Andrews in 2015, with the other three coming at Augusta. Finished solo fifth at the Masters in April before hitting a lull for four tournaments, but a solo third at the Travelers in his last start was just what the doctor ordered before heading overseas. He’d be an immensely popular winner and has shown plenty of form this year, with a victory alongside Cameron Smith in the Zurich Classic and a T-4 in Hawaii to go along with the strong showings at the Masters and Travelers.
Age: 28 World Ranking: 16 Open appearances: 3
Best Open finish: T-27, 2017
Has a preternatural ability to fly under the radar. His win in Pebble Beach back in February felt like something of a coming-out party, a give-me-my-due statement—and he’s been solid since, with six top-20 finishes in his last nine starts heading into the John Deere Classic … but when is the last time you recall paying the Floridian any attention at all. He likes it that way, for what it’s worth, and continues to hang tough both in the World Rankings and the Ryder Cup picture. He games a pretty low and flat cut, at least by modern standards, so a bit puzzling to see he’s missed the cut in two of his three British Open appearances. He’s going to win a major one of these days, and then we’re going to forget all about it a couple weeks later. This is the Daniel Berger experience.
Age: 41 World Ranking: 49 Open appearances: 23
Best Open finish: 2, 2007
Since the spring, he’s been Streaky Sergio. Posted back-to-back top-10s at the Players and the match play, then missed four cuts in a row, and now comes to St. George’s off three straight top-20s. Suffered perhaps his most bitter major heartbreak at this tournament in 2007, a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington after he lipped out a putt to win in regulation, and finished T-9 the last time the Open was at Royal St. George’s. With a nasty stinger in his arsenal and heaps of links experience under his belt—and with this being a Ryder Cup year, and him being one big showing away from essentially locking up a captain’s pick—he falls squarely into the Sleeper category.
Age: 29 World Ranking: 10 Open appearances: 8
Best Open finish: T-5, 2016
Casual American fans might be surprised to see he’s ranked No. 10 in the world, but he won twice in 2020 and began this year with a victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC. Finished joint second against a weak field at Congaree the week before the U.S. Open only to miss the cut at Torrey. He’s now missed the weekend in four of his last six major starts, an inexcusably poor run for a player of his ranking, and has made the weekend just three times in eight career Open starts. Been pretty hit-or-miss this summer, and he’s one of those guys who’s tricky to predict. As such, he doesn’t tend to get much attention from the oddsmakers, which makes him an intriguing outright option—so long as you can ignore all the no-shows in recent majors.
Age: 30 World Ranking: 21 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: MC, 2018, 2019
He doesn’t hit it long, so the temptation is to portray him as a plucky grinder who relies on his short game. The stats tell a different story: he ranks inside the top 30 in SG/off the tee and SG/approach, a dependable formula that’s seen him finish T-26 or better in 11 of his last 13 starts. Ranks fourth in SG/overall over his last 24 rounds and is an increasingly familiar presence on leader boards, even if he hasn’t yet been able to close the deal in a PGA Tour event. Missed the weekend in both Open appearances so far.
Age: 32 World Ranking: 11 Open appearances: 11
Best Open finish: WIN, 2014
Opted to play in the Irish and Scottish Open in the two weeks leading up to Royal St. George’s, ostensibly to get some more tournament reps in with his Pete Cowen-tweaked swing and generally acclimate to the surrounds. A fine strategy, only he did not play well either week—a T-59 in Ireland and a missed cut in Scotland. He looked to have turned a corner with his win at Quail Hollow in May, but now we’re not so sure. Dragged his adoring fans on an emotional rollercoaster two years ago on home soil, beginning his week at Royal Portrush with a 79 that included a quad and two doubles, only to claw his way to an emotional second-round 65 that saw him miss the weekend by one. That ended a streak of four straight Open finishes inside the top five, which is somewhat surprising given his style of play. Tied for 25th in the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s, his first major start after his eight-shot romp at Congressional.
Rory McIlroy. Photo by Golffile
Age: 31 World Ranking: 17 Open appearances: 4
Best Open finish: 3, 2019
If it feels like you haven’t heard from him much recently, it’s because you haven’t. Started the year in typical fashion, racking up ultra-high finishes (without a victory) but has sputtered of late—he’s missed five of his last 10 cuts, including each of the last two. Statistically speaking, the struggles have been more general than localized, and we’re not sure if it’s better that way. In happier news, he finished solo third the last time they held this tournament and T-9 the prior year at Carnoustie. His shots carry an extra dose of integrity, and, per Fantasy National, gains nearly 1.5 shots against the field on days classified as “windy AF”—always a good sign when heading to a seaside links. Perhaps a change of scenery and an entirely different style of golf will jumpstart a stalling season.
Age: 22 World Ranking: 26 Open appearances: 1
Best Open finish: MC, 2019
Bowed out of the three-man playoff at the Rocket Mortgage first, which was his second playoff loss and third runner-up of the year. He’s finally taking the leap we all expected. Ranks 12th this season in SG/overall and can flight it down better than maybe anybody on Tour. No major success to speak of yet but it’s coming.
Age: 26 World Ranking: 23 Open appearances: 5
Best Open finish: T-20, 2019
The artist formerly known as Matthew Fitzpatrick—“drop the ‘thew,’ it’s cleaner”—has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year but zero in the majors. In fact, he has just one major top-10 in 25 career starts, a stat he called “extremely frustrating” after a T-55 at Torrey Pines. He’s been hamstrung by poor iron play this season but picked up nearly four shots with his approach play at the U.S. Open, which is encouraging. So was his excellent play at the Scottish Open, where he shared the 54-hole lead after rounds of 66-66-67. He hits one of the lowest balls on tour and cut his teeth back home on windy tracks, so it’s reasonable to think the Open is the major he’d be most likely to win.
Age: 24 World Ranking: 4 Open appearances: First
Hard to believe the No. 4 player in the world has not played an Open Championship, but that’s what happens when you pair a supercharged rise to stardom with a global-health crisis. Had never played links golf, even in a casual setting, before heading over The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open—which, to be fair, is a much softer test than Royal St. George’s will be. This will all be a bit of a learning experience, then, but elite ball-striking tends to travel well and he’s been the best ball-striker in the world this year. In fact, his lead in SG/approach over No. 2 Paul Casey is larger than Casey’s lead over No. 55, Jason Kokrak, and only one player in the strokes gained era has had a better approach season than the one Collin’s having right now, and he did it four times. We’ll let you guess who that person might be.
Age: 29 World Ranking: 8 Open appearances: 2
Best Open finish: T-12, 2018
Does just enough to enter each major as a trendy pick but has disappointed in the big four recently, going eight straight majors without a finish better than T-15. It hasn’t been awful—he’s made the cut in seven of those eight—but he’s too good to continue being irrelevant in the sport’s biggest events. Missed three cuts in a row in the spring and looked genuinely out of sorts at the Masters, but he’s put that well behind him by “winning” the Memorial Tournament (after Jon Rahm’s COVID WD). Finished top 15 in his two starts since, so all systems are a go heading into Royal St. George’s. Now comes the hard part.
Age: 31 World Ranking: 12 Open appearances: 5
Best Open finish: T-15, 2013
No longer a feel-good comeback story; his second win of the season, even if it came via an interminable par-fest playoff, has him all the way at No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings—and he’s now on the cusp of the World top 10 and knocking on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker’s door. Been in at least semi-contention in three straight starts and comes in off two weeks of rest, full of his quiet confidence. He’s hitting his peak after a deep valley in his late 20s, a barren stretch that saw him miss three straight Open Championships from 2017-19. He’s back now, better than ever.
Age: 43 World Ranking: 20 Open appearances: 17
Best Open finish: T-3, 2010
Ranks second on tour in the all-important SG/approach, and the eye test confirms he remains a top-notch ball-striker despite moving into the fat part of his 40s. Been a consistent performer in majors of recent vintage, finishing T-7 at Torrey Pines and T-4 at Kiawah—and he did so despite losing ground to the field both weeks with his putting. A hot putter could be the only thing standing between the Englishman and major championship glory, finally.
Age: 30 World Ranking: 9 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: 10, 2019
Will be genuinely interesting to see how he’s received by the decorous British fans, as this is the first time he’s playing in the U.K. since his bunker situation at the Hero and the “embedded” imbroglio at Torrey Pines. Posted his first top-10 in an Open at Royal Portrush, and he’s certainly capable of the artistry required by this style of golf. Enters in meh form, with a T-19 at the U.S. Open, a T-25 at the Travelers and a T-32 at the Rocket Mortgage. Hitting it shorter than ever after working on his swing in late 2020/early 2021, but the short game remains all-word, and he’s as gritty as they come.
Age: 36 World Ranking: 2 Open appearances: 11
Best Open finish: T-2, 2015
Within the pantheon of Dustin Johnson Major Almosts, you’ll likely remember the grounded-club incident at Whistling Straits, the final-round 82 at Pebble Beach and the three-putt at Chambers Bay. But what about the 2-iron out of bounds at Royal St. George’s? DJ was the best candidate to chase down Darren Clarke at this venue 10 years ago but had to settle for a tie for second. With each additional unremarkable finish—he has just one top-10 in his last 10 starts, and that came against flimsy competition at the Palmetto Championship—his late-2020 dominance looks increasingly like an isolated hot streak rather than the beginning of a prolonged stretch of greatness. Still, he enters this major as the world’s second-ranked player and obviously knows how to navigate this course, and this style of golf. A victory here would bring the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
Age: 24 World Ranking: 14 Open appearances: First
The first Norweigan to win on the PGA Tour is now also the first Norweigan to win on the European Tour, thanks to his two-shot victory at the BMW International Open last month. That was his first start since pulling out of the U.S. Open because of sand in his eye—no, we’re serious—so nice to see him recover from such a life-threatening ordeal. He’s already a massive star back in his home nation, as hundreds of Norweigans rushed to a local golf course last week after someone posted a picture with his name on a tee sheet. If we throw out that WD, he’s finished T-33 or better in all six of his major championship. He’s destined to become Norway’s first major winner, as well.
Age: 31 World Ranking: 7 Open appearances: 6
Best Open finish: T-4, 2019
Brooks has been extremely Brooks over the last month. He hung tough at the U.S. Open despite not having his best stuff; he slept-walked to a T-5 at the Travelers the following week and said he cannot focus, nor does he feel anything on the first tee of non-majors; he then resumed his aggressive trolling of Bryson after the caddie split. (Caddie Appreciation Day!) The knee continues to improve and so does his game—he’s now got top-fives in three of his last four starts. He also has a strong Open Championship record, which is no surprise given his ravenous appetite for the Big Four. The stat keeps growing more remarkable, so it bears repeating each time: He’s now finished T-7 or better in 11 of his last 15 major starts. Let’s also not forget he headed straight for Europe to cut his teeth after graduating from Florida State, so he’s comfortable in these parts. A threat, as always.
6. Justin Thomas
Age: 28 World Ranking: 3 Open appearances: 4
Best Open finish: T-11, 2019
This tournament thoroughly flummoxed him in his first three attempts, which yielded a T-53 and two missed cuts. He hopes he turned a corner at Portrush (T-11) and looked plenty comfortable in shooting eight under through two days at the Scottish Open. He’s a bit old school with how much he varies his ball flight, and the low screaming hook he used to perfection at the Players could be a weapon this week. Since he got off the mark at the 2017 PGA he hasn’t quite been able to replicate his success in the non-majors at the Big Four, and three have come and gone this year without him making any noise. Checks all the boxes statistically; now it’s time to do it on the course, under the bright lights.
Age: 27 World Ranking: 27 Open appearances: 7
Best Open finish: WIN, 2017
He’ll be slightly disappointed with a T-18 at the Memorial and a T-19 at the U.S. Open, which tells you everything you need to know about the state of the comeback. In fact, we’ll make a declaration: This will be the last top 100 in which we even tangentially mention the slump, for it is a thing of the past. He has 11 top-20 finishes in his last 13 starts and leads the PGA Tour in SG/overall. An argument can be made that he’s been the most consistent player in 2021. He’s never missed a cut in seven Open starts and, along with his memorable win at Birkdale in 2017, he missed a putt for a playoff at St. Andrews in 2015. A cerebral player, he enjoys the questions links golf asks and relishes the chance to play a track that’s not simply bunkers on both sides, long rough, fast greens. We do, however, have to acknowledge some lingering injury murmurs—his ankle (and forearm?) looked bothersome at Torrey Pines, and his decision to not play between then and now is conspicuous.
Age: 27 World Ranking: 5 Open appearances: 3
Best Open finish: T-2, 2018
Apart from Koepka, no one has been a more consistent performer at the majors in recent years. Decided he’d switch to an armlock putting grip before the U.S. Open for whatever reason—and despite ranking 10th in SG/putting for the year up ‘til that point—and while he finished T-7 at Torrey Pines, he failed to hole anything of importance on Sunday and dropped two shots to the field on the greens for the week. Turned up to the Scottish Open arm-locking it once again, so perhaps this is a long-term play rather than a band-aid fix (for a non-existent problem, but we digress). Runner-up at Carnoustie in 2018 and had an eventful week in ’19 at Royal Portrush, when his driver failed the R&A’s random CT test and he had to scramble for a replacement.
Age: 48 World Ranking: 28 Open appearances: 25
Best Open finish: 2, 2010
The last time Royal St. George’s hosted an Open, a 40-something from the U.K. capped off a stellar career with a crowning achievement. A decade later, Lee Westwood is your prime candidate to pull a Darren Clarke. To do that, he’ll have to reverse a rough history at St. George’s, where he’s missed the cut in 2003 and 2011. He without question wants to win a major, but he also knows he doesn’t need one, which makes him a very dangerous man indeed. When rested and keen, as he was during the Florida Swing, he shows zero signs of his age and still puts on quite the stripe show. Entered the weekend at the Scottish Open in contention. Recently married longtime girlfriend/often-time caddie (he had his son, Sam, on the bag in Scotland) Helen Storey in Las Vegas, of all places. Perhaps he’s—excuse the cliché—feeling lucky?
Age: 38 World Ranking: 13 Open appearances: 13
Best Open finish: WIN, 2010
Boasts three top-three finishes in his last four major starts, including runners-up at the PGA and the U.S. Open. Sunday at Torrey Pines cut deep—he absolutely played well enough to win, but Rahm was just a little better. Now has six second-place finishes in majors to go along with his lone victory at the 2010 Open at St. Andrews, and while it’s a pity, he’s quickly becoming synonymous with near-misses. (He was T-2 when the Open returned to the Home of Golf in 2015, so he’ll be licking his chops for next year). Has paired that syrupy swing with elite work with the flat stick this year. He may not be known as a lights-out putter, and he’s failed to hole some important ones in his day, but he leads the tour in SG/putting by a rather wide margin this season. Surely, if you keep giving yourself chance after chance, one of these times the win will come almost by accident. He can’t possibly end his career with only one major. Right? Right?!?!
Age: 26 World Ranking: 1 Open appearances: 5
Best Open finish: T-11, 2019
Dustin Johnson’s subpar summer created a vacuum in the best-player-in-the-world conversation, and Rahm has filled it emphatically. Simply put, he’s on a heater: He led the Memorial by six after three rounds before the COVID fiasco; birdied the final two holes to win the U.S. Open by a shot; and opened the Scottish Open with 66-65. Also appears to be in a terrific mental space as his interviews carry a newfound sense of equanimity. His stock has never been higher, nor has his confidence, and while winning a major isn’t always a springboard to bigger and better things, he looks every bit a candidate to start winning these in bunches. The stats are, well, exactly what you’d expect: second in SG/off the tee, seventh in SG/approach and first in SG/overall. A clear No. 1—and it’d be even clearer had gotten those Memorial points—and, for the first time since the Masters last November, we have a clear favourite heading into a major championship.
MORE STORIES ON THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP 2021 FROM GOLF DIGEST.IE