The final major of the season is upon us as the best players in the world get set to tee it up at Royal St. George’s for the 149th Open Championship. It will be the 15th time that this course has hosted this event, and the first since 2011 when Darren Clarke captured the victory for his only major title.
While a majority of the big names will be ready to go in Sandwich, England this week, a few have already bowed out. Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama has due to COVID-19 protocols. Bubba Watson also announced his withdrawal after being a close contact to someone that had tested positive for the illness. Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim were the other Top 50 players in the world that have also passed on the tournament as they look to focus their attention on the upcoming Olympics. Still, this will be one of the strongest fields in golf and a great week to see the best in the world play a proper links style course.
I won’t go too deep into the stats because it’s a unique week, and a style of golf that the TOUR players don’t play more than a couple of times per season. I will be mostly looking at players in overall good form, and who have produced good results at The Open in prior years. It is a tournament where experience has been proven to really matter, maybe moreso than any other event.
Now, let’s get into the details of the course.
Royal St. George’s Course Preview
Sandwich, Kent, England
7,189 yard Par 70
- 4 Par 3s (239/174/238/162)
- 2 Par 5s (566/547)
- 12 Par 4s (445/421/491/422/450/412/415/379/456/496/426/450)
The course at Royal St. George’s runs along the Kent coast, with Sandwich Bay visible on many of the holes. It is a true links test, which will be impacted by the ever changing weather conditions. It will be key to keep an eye on that factor throughout the week and even up to DFS lock to see if there may be any advantage for the wave splits across the first two days of the tournament.
As we have come to expect at this event, the bunkering and ups and downs of the swales of the course stand out from the start. The bunkers are fully penal, often requiring players to play the ball directly sideways to get out. The rolling levels of the course will create uneven lies throughout the fairways, while the traditional fescue can cause it’s own problems making for large numbers to come into play. This course has been one of the toughest of The Open rotation as 5-under was the winner in 2011, but Greg Norman did carve it up pretty well to the tune of 13-under in 1993. Still, the expectation is that this will be a course that challenges players throughout each and every round.
Royal St. George’s is listed at 7,189 yards on the current scorecard, but the expectation is that it will play much longer than that. Much of that extended yardage will come in two of the four Par 3s, where the 3rd and the 11th are stretched out to nearly 240 yards. The third hole is the only hole on the course without a bunker, and it also is home to the only tree on the property. While the 11th heads back toward the sea, with a two tiered green making it difficult to get close to the hole on this long Par 3. Each of the four par threes play in a different direction making for unique winds on every tee shot. Getting out of these holes with par will be a success throughout the week.
The Par 5s are short by usual TOUR standards, and the 566 yard No. 7 certainly plays that way as it has often been the easiest hole on the course in prior Open Championships. It will yield birdies and eagles throughout the week and will be a hole that players must take advantage of in order to keep pace with the field. The 14th however, is even shorter at 547 yards, but because of the Suez canal ditch that runs through the middle of the fairway, it limits the length that players can use off the tee. It also features out of bounds down the entire right side of the hole, which was the area that put an end to Dustin Johnson’s run at the Claret Jug in 2011 as flared his approach out of bounds led to double bogey in the final round.
While the Par 3s and Par 5s will be important parts of the course, it is the Par 4s that will ultimately decide the week. Each player will tee off the first hole and understand that fact immediately as it plays as one of the more difficult holes of the week. Tiger Woods found that out the hard way in 2003 when he lost his tee shot to the right in the opening round and it led to an opening triple bogey in a tournament he ended up losing by two shots to Ben Curtis.
The undulations of the course are also seen on the opening hole as a swale known as “The Kitchen” runs through the fairway, along with multiple hollows prior to a large pot bunker protecting the middle of the fairway. In just 445 yards to start the event, players and fans alike will see the uniqueness of this track from the jump. Later, players will see a huge bunker known as the “Himalaya” at the 4th hole, as players will have to drive it over this huge dune to attack that 491-yard Par 4, which plays as one of the toughest.
The most difficult hole on the course in these championships at Royal St. George’s has traditionally been the Par 4 8th, and for that reason it is nicknamed “Hades.” It plays off the tee to a plateau with two pot bunkers protecting the right side of the fairway, and then down to the green surrounded by dunes. The second shot is a full carry over the rough and fescue with more bunkers to dodge around the green.
Once players make the turn things will really start to heat up as the 12th hole could be potentially drivable depending on wind direction, but it is littered with bunkers. Some of the longest players in this field could try to challenge it off the tee, but even if they lay back, it will be another hole with scoring opportunities.
The back stretch on Sunday will be an intriguing watch, especially if the leaderboard is tight as we expect it to be. The 17th and 18th holes played over par in 2011, with the 18th being the third most difficult on the course. It yielded just 32 birdies and 165 bogeys or worse across four rounds during the 140th Open Championship. The 450-yard finishing hole is lined with bunkers on both sides of the fairway, requiring a long iron approach to an undulating green that is protected by two additional bunkers and a low area known as “Duncan’s Hollow.” This 72nd hole on Sunday will be a true test and whoever ends up at the top will certainly be deserving of the crown as the Champion Golfer of the Year.
This tournament moves to a different venue each year, so course horses aren’t really a thing this week, but there is certainly value in looking at player’s success at this event. The links style of these courses are something that is unique to many players, especially the Americans, and many handle it better than others. Let’s take a look at who has the best track record at these events.
Jordan Spieth (20-9-1-30-4)
Spieth has been a star at this tournament in his career, never missing the cut in seven attempts. He also has three Top 10 finishes during that stretch, including his win by three shots at Royal Birkdale in 2017. We have seen his overall game come back to life this season, and this will be another spot where we can expect him to be in the mix over the weekend.
Rory McIlroy (MC-2-4-5-DNP)
Despite the missed cut under the pressure of the 2019 Open Championship in his home country of Ireland, Rory still has a stellar record at this major. He has three Top 5 finishes in his last four appearances, and won the 2014 version at Royal Liverpool. He will look to improve upon his T25 finish on this course in 2011, and has been flashing a bit of form.
Brooks Koepka (4-39-6-DNP-10)
It’s no surprise that we have seen three Top 10 finishes from Brooks in his past four Open Championships. He always seems to step his game up when the majors come around, and that has been the case across the pond as well. He was also a player that got his start on the European Tour, which gives him a bit more exposure to these styles of courses than most Americans.
Henrik Stenson (20-35-11-1-40)
If you want to close your eyes and plug your nose on a cheap DFS play this week you could do worse than Henrik Stenson. He hasn’t had much form to speak of this season, but his track record at The Open is something to lean on. He hasn’t missed the cut in any of his last five appearances and of course has his 2016 win at this event when he outdueled Phil Mickelson down the stretch.