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Here are the top players to watch at British Open

Rory McIlroy
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy walks down the fairway from the first hole during the first round of the British Open golf Championships at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 18, 2019. AFP PHOTO  

The Open Championship, the fourth and final Major golf tournament of the year is on this weekend. The Open is the oldest of the four majors having first been staged in 1860 – 159 years ago. The Open is an event of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, founded in 1754 (www.randa.org) and based at the real “Home of Golf”.

The venue for the 2019 Open will be the Royal Portrush in County Antrim in Northern Ireland – the home of Rory McIlroy. This will be only the second time in history, that the Open, also known as the British Open, will not be played in Great Britain – perhaps giving credence to the fact that “the Open” must only be referred as such. It will also be the second time, since 1951 that this venue will host this prestigious event. So who are the favourites this weekend?

Tiger Woods won the first major of the year, the Masters at Augusta whilst Brooks Koepka successfully defended his PGA Championship title at BethPage Park. Koepka came close to also defending his US Open title at Pebble Beach but failed to close in on Gary Woodland the eventual winner. Whilst all eyes are on Koepka, who has won four of his past nine majors, a 44.44 percent win rate at major championships, Woods, Woodlands and the 2018 Open champion, Francesco Molinari are expected to be strong contenders. Woodland, who won his first Major at the US Open, has not had a flattering record at the Open Championship, only once finishing in the Top-30. Can he pull another surprise?

Koepka’s caddy Ricky Elliott, who has been on his bag since the 2013 PGA Championship is a native of Portrush and this will be an added advantage to the current world number one. Elliot has been describe as a “quintessential Northern Irishman” (www.golfchannel.com) who keeps Koepka in check. According to Golf Channel, Koepka and Elliot arrived at Portrush a week ago, visited Elliot’s childhood home where they spent time with Elliot’s parents. Similarly, Wood’s caddy, Joe LaCava was also on Portrush early surveying the golf course for his boss.

Ulsterman McIlroy will have the home advantage and some bookmakers have placed him as firm favourite to win – afterall he shot a score of 61 at Royal Portrush when he was only 16 years old. McIlroy has previously had to deal with issues surrounding his heritage and in the run up to the Olympic Games in Rio, he penned an Oped in the Irish Times stating that he was a product of Irish golf. “I am a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland and am hugely honoured to have come from very rich Irish sporting roots, winning Irish Boys, Youths and Amateur titles and playing for Ireland at all levels. I am also a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is my background and always will be,” he wrote back then (www.irishtimes.com/sport/)

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Other contenders for the Claret Jug this weekend include Tommy Fleetwood, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler (www.golfdigest.com). Woods, who many Kenyan golfers will be rooting for today and through the weekend (fingers crossed), has never played at Royal Portrush he has, however, won the Open Championship three times in 2000, 2005 and 2006. He finished T6 in 2018.

Enjoy the golf.

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