Royal St George’s doesn’t quicken the blood like some Open venues. But you could never dispute that it’s the full, unadulterated links golf experience.
Sadly we’re not going to get the preferred bone-dry yellow runway this year – you should have seen the rain on Monday night. But Sandwich is going to be mostly dry and windy, getting progressively quicker as the weekend progresses.
The weather and course condition profile really fits what we had in 2017 at Royal Birkdale. So, I’m fairly confident in selecting as a leading contender…
Could have won in 2015, did win in 2017 and everyone forgets he was last to tee off on Sunday in 2018. Apparent career crisis now over, the earnest Texan should be fancied for the exact same reasons he was prior to his Birkdale victory. Length is not a massive advantage here, and good iron play is. He has the short game required for the inevitability of the ball not always holding on Sandwich’s slopey greens.
Torrey Pines was Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen’s sixth second place in a major. He didn’t do a whole lot wrong in any of them – on this last occasion Jon Rahm just claimed it from him. Somehow the native of windswept Mossel Bay on the Eastern Cape hasn’t won another one since his breakthrough at the Old Course in 2010. Should definitely be fancied if the predicted winds come across Sandwich this weekend.
Who else was in that final group at Carnoustie in 2018? Xander on debut, and he battled through the mid-round crisis to finish in a tie for second. Waylayed at Portrush by a late change when his driver didn’t pass the equipment beaks. Showed enough at the Scottish at the weekend and the US Open to suggest he’s in good nick even after a brief flirtation with anchor putting. Nine top tens in 17 starts in majors. Just two missed cuts and out of the top 20 on three other occasions. He’s inevitably going to win one of these, and maybe now.
Irish Open winner, and then quietly finished in the top five at the Scottish Open at the weekend. An impressive 36-under for his last 144 holes. Neither course was a links (a proper one at least) or nearly as challenging as he’ll see this week, but there’s always something about riding the wave. From Victoria, which means he’ll surely be accustomed to sandbelt-style golf. I’m disregarding his one bad round on links, a 74 at Carnoustie in the 2019 Dunhill, because it included a 10 at the long sixth. Easily done.
More with the heart than the head I admit, given his current plateau of form. But there’s always the feeling he could break out at any stage. For the want of three mid-range birdie putts early on, Fleetwood could have made Shane Lowry’s final round experience much more stressful two years ago. Tommy can play on any course, any conditions, but you feel this kind of place is where he’s at his best. Surely the 31 years of hurt for England without a Claret Jug – 51 on home soil – should end before the football lot manage it.
Like most Open venues, Royal St George’s is a favourite haunt for the amateur game. As a result, there’s a high proportion of players who have played it extensively. There’s a few pointers from the last British Amateur here in 2017 – Viktor Hovland had a 75 while not qualifying. By his own cheerful admission is a rubbish chipper, so I’m not on the smiling Norwegian like many are. Robert MacIntyre reached the last 16 at that Amateur, so the Scot is definitely an each-way shot. Jon Rahm played the British Boys here at 16, but he’s a different human now.Willett won the English Amateur played here in 2007, played well in 2015 and 2019 for Open top tens. An under-the-radar kind of hunch on this one.