The Open Championship is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the golfing calendar and 2019 looks like being no exception.
With arguably the most competitive field in recent times, this year’s event at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland which runs from July 18 to 21 is sure to be full of thrills and spills.
Here are some predictions to watch out for at the last Major of 2019:
Experience is everything
Tiger Woods is enjoying a stellar year, winning his fifth US Masters in April.
The 15-time Major champion will be looking to go one better this time and equal Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories by lifting the Claret Jug for the fourth time.
Rickie Fowler is another player with a strong track record on links courses, so Royal Portrush will suit him well.
Other contenders include former Open winners Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson and defending champion Francesco Molinari.
And you can never discount world No 1 Brooks Koepka who is in red-hot form, winning the PGA Championship in May, and Dustin Johnson, who is always there or thereabouts.
Koepka, who has finished in the top two in the last three Majors, has the added insight from his caddie Rickie Elliott who frequently played the course while growing up in Portrush.
Justin Rose, who finished second in 2018, is also expected to strongly challenge for his first Open title.
Home advantage will count
Because Royal Portrush has only hosted the Open once, 68 years ago, only a select few will have had experience of playing the course.
However, local boys Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell know this par-72 7,337-yard course inside out.
And the vocal home support will also play a key part.
McIlroy has had a very consistent season after putting the European Tour on hold to focus on the Majors and it has already paid dividends as he started the year with seven straight top 10 finishes.
The Ulsterman will be keen to win in his own backyard having set the course record of 61 at the age of 16 and tying for second at Carnoustie last year.
Dungannon-born Clarke is an outsider, having won the Open back in 2011, but home advantage could count for everything.
Portrush’s favourite son McDowell, who has played the course more than 500 times, will also be looking to continue his meteoric rise after finishing 16th at the US Open.
Tommy Fleetwood had his best Majors year in 2018, finishing second, one shot behind Koepka at Shinnecock Hills, and can be expected to feature strongly too.
The new golf rules will cause controversy
The 2019 golf rule changes have already created a stir and may lead to further confusion and disagreement on this highly challenging course.
The new rules, which include a three-minute limit for searching for balls, dropping from knee height and putting with the flag in, were intended to simplify the game, but have attracted their critics and it will be no different at the Open.
And because the rules are relatively untested many are open to interpretation, particularly the new law that prohibits caddies from standing behind players as they line up for their shots where penalties have already had to be rescinded after being initially incorrectly adjudged.
There will be breakthrough acts
Emerging talents including Matt Wallace, Lucas Bjerregaard and Kim Koivu are expected to challenge strongly.
Wallace will be looking to make the step up with four European tour wins to his name, including last year’s BMW International Open.
Xander Schauffele also has all the tools in his armoury to make a run to the top of the leaderboard with four top 10 finishes in his last six major starts, as does compatriot Bryson DeChambeau.
And then there is always someone who comes through completely out of the blue to make a name for themselves, much as Molinari did in 2018.
Big names will miss the cut
With only 70 players progressing after the first 36 holes, inevitably there will be some high profile casualties.
Added to that, the course is notoriously difficult and unpredictable with the narrow fairway surrounded by bunkers and swales on the first hole, the 10th hole with its dunes and wind whipping in from the Atlantic, and the contoured green on the 12th.
The new seventh and eighth holes will only add to the difficulty factor.
The par-5 592-yard seventh is a tricky uphill, while the eighth, which looks out at the historic ruins of Dunluce Castle requires a demanding tee shot over a chasm to reach the fairway.
With this being only the second time Royal Portrush has hosted the Open, however, the biggest challenge remains the unpredictability factor.
The Open 2020
If the excitement of this year’s Open has whet your appetite, then why not try the 149th Open at Royal St George’s in Kent in 2020.
The Experience St Andrews is offering four programmes for the 149th Open at Royal St George’s: the 4-Night Spectator Programme, the 5-Night Spectator Programme, the 8-Night Programme including St Andrews, and the 8-Night Programme including Turnberry.
For more information or to book one of our programmes for The Open call +44 (0)1334 441350 for the U.K., or 914 481 8594 or toll free on 888 552 5632 for the U.S., or email firstname.lastname@example.org