Is Tiger ready for the Open Championship?
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Due to a change in the PGA Tour schedule, the Open Championship is now the last of the four majors. In your estimation, does this add any importance to the event or change how people should regard it?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I always considered the PGA Championship an afterthought, partly because it was the fourth major on the schedule. But completely ironically, I think being fourth now ADDS to the lustre of the Open… kinda saving the best for last. I would imagine it’s ratcheted up the players’ interest as well… as in, last chance for major glory this year. Putting the PGA in May has given it new respect, too. All in all, one move, two better outcomes.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I like the Open, the oldest, being the final Major. Does it add more prestige or importance? I just don’t think that is possible. It could lead to some great stories, for example; of the three Major winners this year, should one win, it would mean the only double Major winner for the year. The fact that would happen at The Open Championship would certainly mean something extra special. But I don’t think the fact it’s the last Major on the schedule now changes how people see this Championship, its simply one of the coolest Majors, its age, its global recognition, links golf in its purest form, its always going to be seen as one of the best Majors no matter when its played.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: The Open will always be the ‘Open’. Dates don’t change anything. The big beneficiary of the date changes is the Players. By having one major per month plus the Players in that sequence, the Players is getting closer to taking on ‘major’ status. Besides, who determines which events are majors and which aren’t since Herbert Warren Wind passed away who was the officially, accepted designator. Through his writing, he declared the US Amateur, the British Amateur, the Western Open and the North-South Open to no longer qualify. Even though I think each of the majors carries equal importance my favourite is the Open!
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I don’t think it changes the way we look at the Open because the tournament already has so much history and esteem. That wouldn’t change, regardless of if its position among the four annual majors. The Open will now essentially signify the end of the golf season, which is a little strange given that we’re only just in July and it only recently started getting pretty hot in Ontario. But that’s okay. The PGA Championship certainly benefited from moving up in the schedule, and the Open can easily handle the importance that comes with being the final major of the season.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It does suck that the majors are over after this weekend, I feel like our golf season just got started! What is there to look forward to on the PGA Tour? I guess the President’s Cup. Not sure I’ll watch much golf on tv after this weekend, so it’ll be a bit strange. I don’t think it adds any importance to the event, it’s already the most important tourney for so many pros, particularly the European players. It’s still the one I like to watch most on tv, and I’ll be getting up early this weekend to watch as much as possible on one of the best courses in the world!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: That it’s the final ‘Major’ of the year, acknowledging the ‘Champion Golfer of the Year,’ the scheduling is absolute poetic justice. It is the game’s best and most prestigious challenge and its rightful place is as the season’s grand finale. Golf’s got it right, finally. Thanks NFL!
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): To me it was always the most important anyway. Now, being last of the four majors adds a fitting finish to the string, almost like the others were a tune-up for the main event. With the PGA Championship in May, there’s an even longer gap until the Masters next April. Lots of time for the latest and most important major winner to bask in glory.
Tiger Woods hasn’t played a competitive round since the US Open and only three events since winning the Masters in April. There is some concern that Tiger’s back is acting up again, while others believe that Tiger proved everything he wanted when he won at Augusta. What’s your take on Tiger heading into the tournament at Royal Portrush and how do you think he’ll fare this week?
Deeks: If Tiger wins at Royal Portrush, he will truly announce to the world that he’s the greatest golfer on the planet, and that his comeback is not only complete, but one of the most remarkable achievements in sports history. As I’ve said a million times, I’m not his biggest fan, but I certainly think he’s capable of doing it, iffy back and non-battle-tested though he may be. I’ll be rooting for Rory McIlroy more than anyone, but if Tiger’s in the mix on Sunday afternoon, it’ll be hard not to want to see him pull it off.
Loughry: My take on Tiger is that he’s pleased with the golf he’s played the last 12 months. For most guys if they won the Masters and the Tour Championship, that’s a career, that’s what Tiger has done in less than 12 months! I don’t think he’s complacent, but I think he’s gearing up for 2020. He’s not into wrecking his body, I just think he’s pacing himself; he knows he’s not 20 anymore. Do I think he competes this week? I hope he does, but I don’t think he’s fine tuned for it. I’ll watch every shot I can though and hope for the roars only he can draw out of a crowd.
Schurman: I have never understood Tiger during his entire career! He plays events at confusing times and has shown zero loyalty to events who supported him in the beginning. However, he is a champion. And, champions have a much different thought process. I agree he hasn’t played recently and there is evidence to give concern about his health. Yesterday, I watched the Wimbledon Tennis Championship and I cannot believe the sheer guts and determination shown by Federer. I finally concluded that the greatest players are so gifted naturally that they have no fear a loss would come from something physical in their swing/stroke which provides more opportunity for them to dwell on drawing from their mental ‘well’.
Kaplan: Well, you just can’t downplay the importance of reps. You need to be out there competing to get into that ultra-focused and competitive headspace required to be successful at majors, and Tiger simply isn’t getting enough of them. But this is a guy who has won 15 major championships—more than double anyone else in the field—and knows his body extremely well. I trust that he is taking the approach that is best for him, and who are we to say otherwise? As for his result this week, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes in the Top 20. I’ll say tied for 16th.
Rule: I really wish he had been playing between the US Open and now. I just don’t see how he shakes off the rust enough to contend this weekend. It’s one thing to practice at home, but to be tournament ready, you need to play tournaments, even if you’re Tiger Woods. I hope he proves me wrong, but I think he’ll struggle to hit fairways and struggle with his short game and won’t be in contention come Sunday.
Quinn: The forecast is for cool and wet. For folks with back issues (firsthand knowledge here) that is a lousy twosome, the opposite of the ideal one — warm and dry. Of course, he has amazed and shocked before, but if I were a betting man, I’d put a few pounds on Eldrick not making the weekend.
Mumford: Throughout his career, Tiger has delighted in breaking records and defying the odds. His comeback from multiple back surgeries, not to mention the other issues, certainly defied the odds and winning the Masters capped an improbable achievement. Maybe his back is hurting again, maybe not. Maybe Tiger’s just tired and doesn’t want to put in the effort to be competitive for every major in a condensed PGA Tour schedule. He has nothing left to prove except matching Jack Nicklaus major record and has lots of time left to do that if he looks after himself. The cold and wet at Portrush won’t do him any favours. I think he makes the cut but doesn’t contend.
Royal Portrush is an untested venue for many of the competitors. Max Faulkner won the Open last time it was played there 68 years ago. The winning score was 3-under and only one other player broke par. Rory McIlroy holds the course record of 61 but he shot that when he was 16. The course is tough and gnarly and doesn’t appear to favour any particular style of play. Who do you think wins the Claret Jug on Sunday and will Portrush yield a low score or more likely something close to par?
Deeks: As I said in my current column HERE, the scoring will all depend on the weather the players face. (The weekend looks wet and cool on my forecast.). Links courses offer little protection from wind, rain, and cold, and if you get any combination of all three, it’ll be a classic case of social Darwinism. (For the spectators, too!). Regardless of the weather, there’ll be so much pressure on Rory to win, both external and internal, I fear he may implode, but he’s still my choice if all cylinders are firing… he does know the course, after all. If he wins, the whole of Ireland may take the rest of the year off in celebration. I’ve got two long shots: Shane Lowry, from the Republic of Ireland; and Patrick Cantlay, from the Republic of California. Sentimental favourite: Graeme McDowell. Go Rory!!
Loughry: These are the best players in the world, and if the wind is down, I expect around -10 to win. Who do I think will be holding that jug at the end of the Championship? A few come to mind; Rahm seems to be rounding into form, I like Rose for his tee to green game, Molinari not just as a repeat Champ, he just has a great all-around game. Any of those three would make a fine Champion Golfer of the Year. One thing is for sure the course is world class and I look forward to seeing how it holds up to these players.
Schurman: Sentimentally, I like Rory. Hometown! But my pick is Tommy Fleetwood. I thought he would enjoy a better year but he grew-up on these kinds of courses and he sure is far enough under the radar to not have a big media burden.
Kaplan: I’ve got to go with the human wrecking ball Brooks Koepka. How can you not pick him? He’s unstoppable. Dark horse, as always, Patrick Cantlay. And the scores are going to be high. Very, very high.
Rule: The course is very tough, trust me! The rough is punishing and when the wind blows, the course is as tough as they come. Saying that, the forecast doesn’t look terrible in terms of wind, so perhaps it won’t play as tough as some might think. I like Rory’s chances given his knowledge of the course and the fact that the wind won’t be blowing. With his high ball flight, wind is his enemy. I also think Xander Schauffele is due, so he’s my pick to challenge Rory on Sunday. Can’t wait to watch it!!
Quinn: The two new holes, as Rory said, “Look like they’ve been there forever,” so the Portrush rearranged to accommodate TV trucks and sponsors chalets etc. should hold up to the new technology and the new players — though Faulkner was a very fit athlete. The R&A doesn’t care about the score in relation to par, but I think the winning total will be closer to -10 than to Faulkner’s number. There will be weather, and it has to favour a guy that’s been playing it since he was a kid. If Rory can somehow conjure a bit of calm in the first round with all the local-hero pressure and not shoot himself out of it, we could witness one of those sporting moments that are savoured for generations.
Mumford: Weather and bad bounces usually play a sizeable role in Open Championships, more so than the other majors. It’s one of the quirky aspects that make them so intriguing and so unpredictable. If the course is sopping wet and turns into a dart board, I’ll take Koepka to win at -12. Otherwise, I’d want a quid or two on Spieth, Fleetwood and local boy Graeme McDowell, closer to par.