Preview: The 144th Open Championship Preview
The defending champion will watch from home. The hottest player in a decade has had 40% of the betting money being placed on him. And the 14-time Major winner is barely even a blip on the radar.
The third and oldest Major of the four begins Thursday with as much attention focused on one player since 2002, when Tiger Woods entered the field at Muirfield having also won the first two Majors of the year.
The early morning (local time) on Thursday will give fans the chance to appreciate Tom Watson one final time, as the five-time Open winner begins his swan song. The Open organizers definitely have a flair for friendship, matching Watson with buddy Ernie Els and protege Brandt
Ian Poulter, local favorite, is matched up with Charl Schwartzel and Bubba Watson. Watson has two Masters titles to his resume, while Poulter has been in the Top 3 here twice since 2008.
Patrick Reed, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia. Yes, it’s no coincidence that the outspoken American Ryder Cup player Reed is matched with two of the most decorated members of Europe’s squad.
Jordan Spieth begins his epic quest at 9:33 a.m. alongside US Open runner-up Dustin Johnson and another young talent, Hideki Matsuyama, who was sixth at the Open in 2013.
Nick Faldo and Justin Rose are together in a pairing that is sure to garner plenty of local interest, and the third man, American Rickie Fowler, won his first European title last week at the Scottish Open.
Of the three men in the next group, the one who has won this tournament twice at this location is one of the longest shots. That’s Tiger Woods if you couldn’t guess, who is paired with Louis Oosthuizen, who has emerged as the strongest leading contender on that side of the ocean, and Jason Day, who finished tied for ninth at the US Open last month despite his scary bout with vertigo.
Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer, who won Majors in the last two yeasr, are paired together with Jimmy Walker, a strong American who finished high in the FedEx Cup standings, but has yet to make an impact at a Major.
Meanwhile, 2013 champion Phil Mickelson draws Henrik Stenson, who has finished in the top three here three times, and Matt Kuchar, last week’s runner-up in Scotland.
And for sheer entertainment, the best to follow around might be Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jason Dufner, and John Daly. If the three of them go out together after the round, the trail of knocked-over pubs could be legendary.