The Open: Can Patrick Cantlay be the first winner since 1951 at Royal Portrush?

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July 16th, 2019

The Masters, PGA and U.S. Open were all won by Americans, and by sheer numbers, Americans will have a reasonable chance for a sweep.

The 148th Open Championship begins Thursday, and for the first time in 68 years, it takes place outside of either Scotland or England, at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Royal Portrush, a scenic course on the sea, is the only venue that has staged the Open outside of Great Britain. The course will be played at a beefy 7,344 yards (par 71) and, though long, it will depend on the weather as to how difficult it tests today's power-driven players, similar to other Open courses.

Though Royal Portrush hasn't had the Open since 1951, it did host the Irish Open as recently as 2012, as well as the Senior Open Championship from 1995-1999 and in 2004. It was awarded the Open five years ago, perfect timing after the recent major championships won by natives Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell (the latter two call Portrush home).

Also new here is the fact that the Open will conclude this year's major championships, since the PGA Championship was moved back to May. The Masters, PGA and U.S. Open were all won by Americans, and by sheer numbers, Americans will have a reasonable chance for a sweep. That hasn't happened since 1982.

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Course layout need to know

Since so little is known about Portrush and how it will play, there is reason to believe someone could surprise and win it, such as Ben Curtis (2003) or Todd Hamilton (2004). Starting in 2000 the average world ranking for the eventual Claret Jug holder is 42.8, and Tiger Woods is the only No. 1 player to win it during that time (that was his ranking in all three wins). Curtis was ranked 396th and Clarke was 111th when he prevailed in 2011.

McIlroy, who is from Holywood near Belfast, shot 61 at Royal Portrush in 2005, when he was 16. A lot of eyes will be on him this week and rightly so. There will be a lot of pressure on him, and it will be interesting to see what he does.

McIlroy, who turned 30 in May and last won a major in 2014, is probably worth a look at short prices. One has to wonder, however, if that pressure will get to him playing in front of his home fans. He's had a wonderful season so far and could add the Claret Jug to the Players Championship he captured back in March. All of the tools are there. He just needs a cooperative putter and to minimize that major mistake. The last player to pull the Open-Players double in the same year was Jack Nicklaus in 1978.

Brooks Koepka, who has won four of his last nine majors played in (he missed the 2016 Open and 2018 Masters) and nearly added two more in this year's Masters and U.S. Open, has an interesting angle of his own at Portrush. Though he's an American and recently stated he'd never been to Northern Ireland, his caddy is Ricky Elliott, who is from Portrush and knows the course well. If that proves to be of any use to the ever-steady Koepka, that combination is probably worth a play in any scenario. Koepka is +1000 (second choice behind McIlroy at +800), and though there isn't much value there, it's unwise to believe he won't play well. His best Open finish is a tie for sixth two years ago at Royal Birkdale.

All of this being said for the two favorites, though, I'm going with an American as my top pick. Patrick Cantlay has current odds of +2500 and displayed tremendous form recently when he won the Memorial Tournament. In his lone Open appearance last year, he tied for 12th and has every right to improve off that. Cantlay is first on the PGA Tour in scoring average, second in strokes gained total and fourth in strokes gained tee to green. He also possesses more than adequate power off the tee, and I feel there's a major in his future. Why not now?

A genuine longshot I'll be considering at +10000 is the South African Erik Van Rooyen. The University of Minnesota product recently finished in a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship. If there's a Curtis-type shocker out there this time, perhaps he's the one.

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