Padraig Harrington returns to Scotland once again, the scene of his first major victory in 2007 where he won a play-off at Carnoustie against Sergio Garcia. That victory came in the four-hole play-off – after dropping his one shot lead in regulation on the eighteenth fairway – following a visit to the Barry Burn. A lead which would have secured him the title outright but instead allowed García a putt for the title. Fortunately for Padraig the Spaniard missed.
History now records what happened next and that Harrington won the first of what was to become two Open Championship titles in consecutive years. The trip to Scotland this year has started well with a few good rounds at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open last week and hint that the Rio bound player is moving into form at the right time. So think he might have a bit of a run this week at Royal Troon. But my favourite would be the American Dustin Johnson, now number two in the world, who is also on a bit of a roll.
That win at the US Open – in difficult circumstances on the final day – followed by another win at the WGC-Bridgestone two weeks ago at Firestone allowed him snatch a trophy in the wake of Jason Day’s unfortunate last day. So he is now man with the type of confidence that can win major titles. Also an intent that has seen him practising in Ireland this week at The Island and Portmarnock Golf Club to ready himself for the rigours of Western Scotland links play. That newly found self-belief might be hard to counter as we have seen with Jason Day recently once he won his first big title. Or indeed Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.
Although these last two really are in a bit of indifferent form. So you would have to fancy DJ this week to rattle a few flags throughout the four days.
Shane Lowry the runner up at Oakmont might also be one of those in the running despite a mixed week at Caste Stuart. One gets the sense that Lowry is now managing his schedule around the Majors as he advances on his objectives that saw him chase a top 50 last year, then get PGA exemptions and now is to target performances at the majors. If not also enjoy his first Ryder Cup this year at Hazeltine. Now having achieved the first two it is Troon this week hoping to improve on second place finish at the US Open. In fact, think he is the best Irish hope and expect a top five finish for him on Sunday at least.
Graeme McDowell might also join him as he could plot his way around Troon as he enjoys seaside golf having been reared on it. Also the fight for distance off the tee might be less of a disadvantaged as it is on the PGA Tour courses with all those early years playing Rathmore coming in handy. Although he won’t win I don’t feel, or at least has not shown anything to indicate he is a contender, his natural game makes him material in terms of top Irish performers.
Which brings us to Rory McIlroy, who has had a couple of weeks overshadowed by Zika, Rio and the Olympics. A polemic that hopefully has not affected his preparation but is no doubt proving an unwanted distraction around one of the majors.
In fairness though, little to suggest he either has current momentum at hand to repeat Hoylake two years ago. With the need for some very consistent putting this week not fully in his armoury yet. A part of Rory’s game which still seems to cause a few hiccups. Then again McIlroy has always won the majors when he was least expected to and often against the run of any indicated form. So won’t write off his chances in any way.
But as Paul Dunne will no doubt find out this week, history at The Open can provide unwanted baggage at times. So Dunne’s performance last year will be revisited during Troon this year and expectations will accompany it. But again not sure how his week will go as little on the cards to hint at major win potential for the Greystone man. But if fairness I haven’t really seen him in action since the Spanish Open earlier this year. Or indeed the Trophee Hassan in Morocco
Last year’s winner Zack Johnson would loom large in my mind as a possible repeat winner with his putting a deadly weapon at such an event. However, the weather conditions will have determining factor on the runners and riders come the weekend. Indeed, it’s not a genuine Open Championship in Scotland without the weather as last year proved when consistent rain and strong winds at St. Andrews pushed the final round to Monday, when Zach Johnson outlasted Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day to take home his first Claret Jug.
This year at Royal Troon it looks similar pattern might emerge as Friday to Sunday is forecast with high winds and rain throughout. That includes 30 mph winds for moving day on Saturday. But as it is western Scotland that can also change without notice.
Jason Day has to be in the mix despite the collapse at Firestone, as will Jim Furyk who is another accurate ball striker. My fancy though is either of the Johnsons – Dustin or Zach.
Facts Royal Troon
i. 2016 will be the 145th Open Championship
ii. The 9th time that Royal Troon has hosted the event.
iii. The Open was first held at Royal Troon in 1923.
iv. Before the Claret Jug was presented as a trophy, the original award given to the winner was a Challenge Belt, made of rich morocco leather, embellished with a silver buckle and emblems.
v. The Open Championship was last played at Royal Troon in 2004 when Todd Hamilton raised the Claret Jug after a dramatic 4-hole play-off with Ernie Els.
vi. Todd Hamilton was the sixth consecutive American golfer to win the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
vii. The most infamous hole at Royal Troon is the 123-yard par 3 ‘Postage Stamp’, aptly named after Willie Park described it in “Golf Illustrated” as,” A pitching surface skimmed down to the size of a Postage Stamp”.
viii. Harry Vardon has won the Open Championship the most with 6 victories to his name.
ix. Troon is a port with freight and ferry services and you can travel to many of the Scottish isles and beyond to Ireland from Troon Harbour.
x. In 2014, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club took a vote with its membership to see whether the club would admit women as members for the first time in its 250-year existence.
xi. A few months later several honorary lady members were announced including Princess Anne, Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam.