5 burning questions entering round 1 at the British Open

July 19, 2017

To borrow from the poet Donald Rumsfeld, there a number of “known knowns” heading into this week’s British Open, which we can say for sure will be held at Royal Birkdale and feature a field of 156 players. But there are also plenty of uncertainties. With Thursday morning’s start just hours away, here are five questions we’re keen to see resolved.

1. A Little Extra English?

It’s been 25 years since an Englishman (Nick Faldo) won the British Open, and 48 years since an Englishman (Tony Jacklin) pulled off the feat on home soil. If that dry spell continues, it won’t be for lack of opportunity. There are 28 English players in the field this week, and four of those chaps (Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and Tyrell Hatton) are ranked in the top 25 in the world. Will jolly old England be all the jollier come Sunday afternoon?

2. Whither the Weather?

If you think golf is unpredictable, try plotting weather patterns at the British Open. The current forecast for Southport, England, calls for sunshine and calm winds on Thursday followed by wet and windy conditions on Friday. After that, the vagaries set in. According to BBC meteorologists, the weekend will bring sunshine and “perhaps thundery showers.” And maybe, just maybe, “longer spells of rain.” Will weather be a factor? Who will get the lucky side of the draw? Your guess is as good as ours, and, it seems, the weatherman’s. We’ll have to wait and see what Mother Nature has to say.

3. Will the First-Time Streak Continue?

Based on recent trends, there’s never been a better time to be the Best Player to Never Win a Major. What began with Jason Day’s triumph at the 2015 PGA Championship has held true for seven consecutive biggies, each of which was claimed by a first-time champ. According to oddsmakers in Las Vegas, Jon Rahm (16 to 1) is the major-less player most likely to win, followed by Rickie Fowler (18 to 1) and Hideki Matsuyama (20 to 1). But other marquee players (Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy among them) are more heavily favored. What’s the smart wager? Will the newbie list grow longer, or come to an end?

4. One for the Ages?

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot going on with Lefty. Having parted ways with his longtime caddy, Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson arrives at Royal Birkdale with his brother, Tim, on his bag. As for that bag, it, too, looks different. Among its weapons are a modified three-wood in place of a driver; a second three-iron; and a 64-degree wedge—an experimental arsenal, customized for this particular links, brought to you by the Mickelson camp. As if that weren’t enough to make Phil Watch compelling, there’s also this: with a win this week, Mickelson, 47, would be become the oldest man to ever win a British Open, breaking a record set by 46-year-old Old Tom Morris in 1867. Last year, you’ll remember, only an out-of-body showing by Henrik Stenson kept Mickelson out of the winner’s circle. The hands of time keep ticking. Is there enough left on his clock for Mickelson to claim his second Claret Jug?

5. A Wedding Gift for Sergio?

It’s been the summer of Spain so far across the pond, with wins for Jon Rahm and Rafael Cabrera Bello, in the Irish and Scottish Open, respectively. And let’s not forget the spring enjoyed by Sergio Garcia, who finally shed the weight of unmet expectations when he snagged the green jacket at Augusta. Sergio has a busy schedule this month, and not just on the golf course. He’s also getting married. And some pundits have predicted that he’ll be distracted. But given his career record at the British Open (ten top 10 finishes in 20 tries), it’s fair to wonder: will a silver trophy be among his early wedding gifts.