We’ve been waiting two years for the British Open, which was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19. The storylines in golf, however, have not taken a pause.
Entering this week’s Open at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, on the southeast coast of England, the storylines and subplots in the game are as rich as they ever have been.
The past two champions at the venue, Ben Curtis in 2003 and Darren Clarke in 2011, will not be a factor in the chase for the Claret Jug.
But Jon Rahm, reigning U.S. Open champion and current holder of the world’s No. 1 ranking, will.
So, too, should Rory McIlroy, despite not having won a major championship since 2014, and Bryson DeChambeau, despite not having a caddie at the moment after he and his looper, Tim Tucker, parted ways on the eve of DeChambeau’s last event, the Rocket Mortgage Challenge.
Dustin Johnson, who had the No. 1 ranking wrested from him by Rahm at Torrey Pines last month, will be trying to regain the form that got him to No. 1 in the first place.
Another top player seeking to rekindle his mojo is Brooks Koepka, who has taken particular delight in DeChambeau’s caddie troubles, but has had trouble of his own closing the deal on Sunday in the past two major championships when he was in contention in the final round but failed to cross the finish line first.
What about Phil Mickelson?
First, he stunned the golf world (and himself) by hoisting the Claret Jug in victory in 2013 as the winner of the one major championship most (including himself) believed would be the last one he’d have a chance to win.
Then he stunned the world (and himself) when he won the PGA Championship in May at Kiawah Island at age 50 to become the oldest man ever to win a major championship.
Mickelson finished runner-up to Clarke in the 2011 Open, the last time it was played at Royal St. George’s.
So, you must not have been paying a lot of attention if you believe he doesn’t think he has a good shot at winning a second Open to give him seven career major championships.
Aside from the obligatory photographs that will surface of him returning the Claret Jug to Royal & Ancient officials, Shane Lowry, the de facto defending champion as the 2019 victor at Royal Portrush, enters this week’s Open about as under the radar as he was entering that Open, because that’s what Lowry is: low key.
There will be plenty of “don’t sleep on these guys’’ guys in the field, beginning with a rejuvenated Rickie Fowler, who seems to be finding his form after spending some 18 months in the wilderness searching for his swing.
Fowler finished tied for fifth at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s and thrives on links golf courses. He had a tie for second in 2014 and a tie for sixth in 2019.
The clear favorite, though, is Rahm, who conceded that he has basked for a bit in his recent run of success, particularly when he teed it up with McIlroy and Justin Thomas for the first two rounds of the Scottish Open last week.
“I’m not going to lie: I think I might have missed that first tee shot because I’m there sitting with Rory, great player, J.T., great player, and I get announced as world No. 1, Race to Dubai leader and U.S. Open champion,’’ Rahm said after the first round. “They just said Rory McIlroy, J.T., so I was just a little surprised by it. I didn’t expect it. My ego might have got a little too big, tried to hit a little too hard.’’
Rahm said he believes he’s “pretty prepared and better experienced mentally for’’ the British Open at Royal St. George’s.
“If I remember correctly, it can get quite windy on that part of the country and it’s not the easiest links golf course,’’ he said. “You’re going to have adjust to the wind, the atmosphere and the golf course every day. I feel like I’m better prepared after that.
“Now when it comes to my life after the [U.S. Open] win, it hasn’t changed too much. It shouldn’t change. There might be more people that recognize you and more people that come up to you for picture, autograph or just to say hello, but for the most part it hasn’t changed.
“All I can say is I celebrated more than I have in the past, but I feel like it was well worth it.’’