Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we preview The Open Championship at Royal Portrush, including Tiger Woods’ chances, the favorites to win, the best underrated storylines and more.
1. Paul Azinger said “I think it’s going to be hard for Tiger to ever win anything again” following his Masters triumph in April. Azinger argues that it made Woods too content. “It’s the most content I’ve ever seen him,” he said. “Tiger has never looked satisfied.” Do you agree with Azinger?
Sean Zak, associate editor (@sean_zak): Tiger did seem very confident and content post-Masters, and he deserved to seem so. But at Pebble he played some uninspiring golf. It’s been three months since Augusta, but it feels even longer than that. Totally agree with Zing.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): Not sure I’d call him uninspired, but he has certainly seemed … old? I’m not sure he’s physically ready to contend this week, because for years he spoke about the importance of reps as part of his major prep. That Masters may have taken more out of him than we realize. I wouldn’t say he’s done winning anything from here out, but his health will always be the wild card going forward.
Josh Sens, contributor (@JoshSens): Imagine if Tiger received a medical bill for every arm-chair psychologist who has ever diagnosed him? He could probably afford it, but barely. My two cents to the penny jar? No doubt he’s been taking some deep, easy breaths after Augusta. It would be shocking if he hadn’t. But as Jeff points out, those mental factors are entangled with the physical challenges, to say nothing of the strength of the players he’s up against. Winning again was always going to be very tough. If it doesn’t happen, lack of inspiration won’t be the biggest cause.
Josh Berhow, senior editor (@Josh_Berhow): I don’t know if “too content” is how I would phrase it. The guy won the Masters. The Masters. At 43. After more surgeries and personal struggles than we’ll probably ever know. I think he deserves it if he wants to bask in that victory a little longer, but I still believe when he’s between the ropes there’s not anyone who is more locked in. This is the Tiger we are going to see for now on as long as he’s healthy. His body simply might not allow him to play two weeks before every major start. And I’m fine with that.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I understand why Azinger is saying what he’s saying, BUT I don’t agree with it, because if Woods is capable of one thing above all others it is defying odds.
2. Speaking of Woods, we haven’t seen him since the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he tied for 21st but was never in contention. This is the second time this year Woods is going from one major to another, and the last time it happened he missed the cut at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Woods’ latest break has also drawn plenty of criticism, but now he’s got his chance to put his doubters in their place at The Open at Royal Portrush. What do you expect from Tiger this week and where does he finish?
Zak: I expect two grinder-out 70s to make the cut and maybe one really good round. Sorta like Pebble, where we pay attention early and forget about him late. Of course, a pair of 70s could end up being really good for him.
Ritter: Links plays to his strengths as a course-manager and strategist, but I’m just not ready to call him a contender. Something like a top-30 finish feels about right. But thanks to that Masters, he’s still Player of the Year, right?
Sens: Among the zillion reasons to be excited for the week is that it should bring so many styles into play. Portrush should put more pressure on Tiger’s tee game than Augusta (where he got away with a number of loose drives), but much less than Bethpage. For that reason, I think it’s fair to expect results somewhere in between. In the mix into the weekend but well shy of a win.
Berhow: I think he’ll surprise us and play much better than what we are expecting. I don’t think he’ll win, but I do think we’ll have a moment or two, maybe on Saturday, when the alarm bells sound and it looks like Tiger is jumping into the mix. He loves this style of golf and is getting some good prep in already. We saw what he did last year.
Bamberger: Where he stands through 36 holes will depend on some things out of his control, like the weather. If he plays in two days of cold rain, it will be a long two days. Even though there is no quit in the guy I just don’t think he can make a serious swing in those kinds of conditions.
3. Brooks Koepka’s major dominance needs no introduction and another favorite this week, Rory McIlroy, is returning to an area where he grew up and a course he’s plenty familiar with. Are you taking a Brooks/Rory combo to win or the field?
Zak: Field! Brooks hasn’t shown much success in the links game, so his parkland pedigree is kinda moot for me this week. Rory will play well enough, I’d imagine, but something about 150 other players appeals to me most.
Ritter: Always the field. Too many great players have a shot, like DJ, Kuchar, Fleetwood, Rahm and Rickie, to name a few.
Sens: For either of those guys to walk off with the claret jug would be about as surprising as Djokovic winning at Wimbledon. But of course, the field. Always the field.
Bamberger: Even in the Snead-Hogan heyday, I’d never take two players over the field, not in a full-field event. Field.
Berhow: Have some fun, guys. Give me Brooks and Rory! Yeah, I know the field is the safe bet, but I really like these guys’ chances this week. And plus, this is fake money we are betting, right?
4. This is the first year since the schedule change where The Open will be the last major on the schedule instead of the third. Does this new spot on the major calendar add importance to the event or in any other way change the dynamic of The Open?
Zak: It only adds importance. It’s one of the last defining pieces of the puzzle for Player of the Year. A Woods, Koepka, Woodland or McIlroy victory pushes them ahead of the others. I love that.
Ritter: Yep, The Open is even more significant, and it just feels right that the event that’s been around the longest will now serve as the major finale. Champion Golfer of the Year and Final Major Champion in one fell swoop. I like it.
Sens: It feels like proper final punctuation. Good for fans. Great for The Open. Bad for anyone who gets easily bored in August.
Bamberger: The single-biggest winner of this schedule change is The R&A and its biggest event.
Berhow: I think the new schedule is sound, although yes it makes August a little more dull. The Open was already great and now this adds that freshness factor to it that lingers into the offseason. But the biggest winner of the schedule change, in my mind, was and always will be the PGA Championship. The Open was never gonna be forgotten about.
5. What’s the best Open storyline no one is talking about that you can’t wait to see unfold?
Zak: That Dustin Johnson has regressed to where he was prior to Oakmont. Wickedly talented but missing something. He is likely to go major-less again but hang near the top of the World Ranking. As impressive as it is maddening.
Ritter: Portrush is undeniably gorgeous, but what type of player does it favor? How will weather affect it? So many Open venues are known quantities, but this one is essentially a giant question mark. Can’t wait to see it play out.
Sens: Did I just read that Phil Mickelson lost 15 pounds in 10 days on some whacky fast? Inquiring minds want to know: Will dietary deprivation become the next big culinary fad in golf now that CBD gum appears to have peaked? Fascinating.
Berhow: The last major means the final chance for guys to capitalize on some underwhelming seasons. Justin Thomas has won in each of the last four years but hasn’t yet in 2019. You know Spieth’s story. Paging Patrick Reed? When’s Tommy Fleetwood gonna grab a big one? On and on.
Bamberger: That the British Open is becoming the second-most coveted title in world golf, and world golf includes American golf. And in the next decade or so, as the movement toward everyman golf and away from elitist golf only escalates, it will eventually supplant the Masters and become what it once was, golf’s most illustrious title, the answer to the question, “If you could win only one event, which would it be?”
6. Our Max Marcovitch recently checked out (and ranked) the cold beverages at Pinehurst Resort’s brewery. What’s the best drink you’ve ever had at a golf course?
Zak: Whichever French beer I had after playing Morfontaine last September, pre-Ryder Cup. Three of us watched the sun set on that classic course after playing 27 holes. It was quiet and perfect.
Ritter: Pinehurst’s cocktail list isn’t shabby, either, but I’m easy: If it’s over 80 degrees on the course, just give me a Bell’s Oberon at the 19th hole and I’m set.
Sens: A Guinness at any number of courses in Ireland. Like pasta in Italy, it really is different over there.
Berhow: This all depends on your zip code. Some of my favorites are a Spotted Cow after a round in Wisconsin, a Lonely Blonde after teeing it up in Minnesota, and, my current No. 1 — the Bandon Pale Ale at Bandon Dunes.
Bamberger: An Arnold Palmer with Arnold Palmer.