Published: 06:00, 14 July 2021
Jon Rahm is the clear favourite with the bookies to win The Open at Royal St George’s this week – but there are no shortage of contenders to triumph in Sandwich.
Here’s the thoughts of some of the leading contenders, with their first round a little over 24 hours away.
Royal St. George's is an amazing golf course. It's pretty interesting. There's a certain amount of holes that you can kind of go after it on, and there's a couple that you can't. If you hit it in the rough, in the hay, it's not easy to get out of. I hope I can hit it far enough to where I can wedge it out still onto the green if I get good enough lies, but there's certain lies out there it's going to be a pitch back to the fairway, and that's for everybody.
If you're hitting it 300 off the tee and it goes into the hay, it's not easy to get to the green from there, either. I hope that the length will be a little bit of an advantage. I just have to drive it well. That's what I have to do this week, and the speed controlling the greens is going to be huge. If I don't three-putt this week, I'll have a pretty good chance going into Sunday.
The times I've played in the British Opens in the past, I think they've been a little wet and windy. I usually struggle on that in general. I think that hopefully if we get a little bit of a dry week, I can get the wind under control in my brain, hopefully I can have a good week. I love links golf. I've shot low numbers over here before, but it's about putting it together for four rounds and making sure my game is pretty repeatable.
The thing is you can't miss it out here very often. If you do you're in the hay and it's not easy to get out of. This is the first time I've taken my length to links golf. We'll see how that plays. Maybe it plays out weak; maybe it doesn't. I'll keep trying to figure it out.
Even though I've sort of grown up on links courses and played a lot of links golf, still, when you turn professional, 90-95 per cent of the golf you play isn't this style of golf, so you always have to adjust a little bit. Over the years I've just become more and more comfortable with this style of golf, and I think more than anything else, there's a lot more variables in the Open Championship and on links courses. Once you learn that you can't control those variables, then you just have to go out and accept whatever is given to you.
I think as I've got a little more experience and matured, I've been able to play this championship a little bit better, and hopefully I can continue that record this week.
There was a lot of events that were cancelled last year because of the pandemic. I always compare golf to tennis because two individual sports, four majors a year, and The Open Championship and Wimbledon were cancelled last year, arguably the biggest tournaments in their respective sport. Walking in our little clubhouse here this week, there's a board with the list of winners and the courses, and it says 2020 championship not played, and you're just so used to seeing at that like 1941 or 1945, like war years and stuff like that. The fact that every time now you look at 2020 it's going to say "championship not played," it just sort of stuck with me. I think everyone is just so glad to be back and playing again and inching our way back to some sort of normality.
It's great to be back and great to have fans and just great to be playing an Open Championship again.
Even before the rain (on Monday), the course was quite lush, quite green. We maybe weren't getting the bounces that we're accustomed to getting here at St. George's with the bumpy fairways. I think the course plays a little better that way, so I was pleasantly surprised. I walked away from the golf course on Saturday and Sunday thinking, this is a much better golf course than I remember it being, and I think that's just because of the way it's playing right now.
I think it's perfect, and as the days go on with a little bit of wind and sunshine, by the weekend it should just be absolutely perfect. It should be playing the way it should play. I obviously didn't have great memories from 2011 the way I played, and playing the last few days, it's much better than I remember.
I feel good. I've hit the ball really good in practice the last few days. I feel like I figured something out on Sunday here, which has been really good. I hit the ball great on the range yesterday, and I hit the ball well today on the course. I feel good about where I am going into the week.
I think the biggest thing this week is if you do hit it off line, you've got some really thick, juicy rough on either side of the fairway, which you just have to avoid.
I've always enjoyed coming over here. I came over here when I was a little kid. Actually here, watched Ben (Curtis in 2003) win. Me and my brother and my mom came. I must have been like 10 years old or something.
I've always enjoyed playing links golf. I think it takes a lot of creativity and imagination. In the States a lot of times you just throw it up high in the air and the ball is going to stop, where you've really got to pay attention where the ball is going to bounce into the green. You might have 50 yards but you've got about six clubs you could play. I think that's fun. It brings out the creative side. It's fun. I love it. I love it over here.
Sunday was the first time I touched a club since Travelers. Maybe I don't have the best of prep coming into this. But I feel good. I feel my game feels solid. I like the way I'm hitting it right now, and definitely more comfortable than I've been in years past coming over.
Playing St Andrews is probably my favourite place in the entire world to play. Portrush two years ago was just such a good Open. A fun golf course to play. This one, it's just not as exciting. I don't know why. Whether it be a couple shots to nothing, a couple blind or shots in where you can't really see much. I'm not too big of a fan of that.
At the end of the day, it just comes down to how well you're playing. Are you going to make the putts, are you going to hit the right shots at the right time, avoid bunkers out here, keep it out of the rough? The rough is pretty thick out here, probably the thickest I've seen of the venues over the last five years maybe, six years.
I have played here before. I think I played in 2009. The course hasn't changed. I've changed quite a bit. It'll be a different experience. We played the British Boys over here, and that was my first-ever tournament I believe in links golf, so some fond memories from the area. I'm excited to see it this week. I've heard nothing but great things, and really excited.
To be fair, I did not expect this tournament to be the first one we're going to have full crowds, just because of the lockdown and limitations and all. But excited, especially on a course with such history as this one. It's known to be a difficult links golf course, so I'm hoping it plays like that, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's always a week I really cherish, I really enjoy. Like I said earlier, this was my first links golf experience, so it's a little bit of nostalgia in there, too, so I'm excited about it.
I know Tiger has done it (won the US Open and The Open in the same year). Might have been maybe Ben Hogan has done it, too, and not many more. I'm assuming Jack. Jack is always in all of those lists. It would be pretty incredible to win both Opens in one year. It would be amazing. It would be pretty incredible to be able to win The Open. Nobody after Seve has been able to do it, so to give Spain that, that would be pretty unique, as well.
I've loved it every time. Mainly because you truly have to play your own game and learn from the golf course. You have a little bit more variety of golf. It's the unique part about it. It's the ever-changing, let's say, wind, the weather conditions, the ever-changing state of the golf course. It's what makes it such a great week, and every time you come to the UK. It's something I've always enjoyed. There's always a little bit of luck involved in what part of the draw you are on, depending on the weather you get, and that's part of golf. Again, if anything, if it changes, it changes for the better. I feel like I love it more and more every time.
Each individual course gives its own challenges, and we'll see. I can't really tell what I think the scoring will be like, but you know with links courses, the wind, the weather makes such a difference. But for sure a softer golf course plays different to a firm and fast one.
I'm a different player in a different situation to two years ago (as runner-up to Shane Lowry). I think when you have sort of been up there and competed in majors, I was there on the final group on Sunday, I think I can take from that the way I felt or the way the whole day felt and everything. I would say that one in particular was very much like a one-off where I can't think of many Opens where I've been in the final group and I wouldn't be like the fan favourite in a way, so that was like a different experience entirely. But you take from it, the experience you've got. I think the last, from dating back to Troon, which was 2016, and I was off the planet, I couldn't hit a golf shot, but I've improved every Open since then. If that trend carries on then it would be really, really nice.
For me, like the build-up to this week, knowing that the Open is going to be on, the feeling that it gives you when you wake up on Monday and know that it's like Open Championship week, they are exactly the same as they've always been. It gives me the same buzz, it gives me the same excitement.
When The Open is in a Covid year or not, I think you look back at the way Dustin reacted when he won the Masters and that was a very quiet Masters and you see the emotions that it brings out, I don't think those things go away and I don't think those things change because of what is going on around the tournament. I think everybody is really grateful that we're here playing The Open. It's been a long time since the last one. It's a very special event.
For me, like it's just exactly the same feelings. Like I'm going to assess the course, the excitement is going to be building for Thursday, and hopefully I'm there for the full week and right up until the end of the event.
I consider myself very lucky that I get to play this tournament as one of the home favourites and to get the support that I do, and I always look forward to it.
Odds: Jon Rahm 7/1, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele 16/1, Justin Thomas 18/1, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy 20/1.