Francesco Molinari will defend his Open title next week as the year’s final major championship takes place from July 18-21.
Here, PA looks at five talking points ahead of the first Open at Royal Portrush since 1951.
Will local knowledge help Brooks Koepka lift the Claret Jug?
Koepka has never been to Northern Ireland, let alone Portrush, but the world number one’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, is a local and knows the course well from his own playing days, when he would often compete against another Portrush native Graeme McDowell.
Elliott admits his yardage book will need to be adapted for some of the lines the big-hitting Koepka will be able to take, but there is no doubt he will be a big asset as the American seeks a fifth major title in his last 10 starts.
Has Tiger Woods made a mistake with his preparation?
Woods did not compete between winning his 15th major title in the Masters and the following month’s US PGA Championship and went on to miss the cut at Bethpage. The 43-year-old did play the Memorial Tournament before a tie for 21st in the US Open at Pebble Beach, but has again not played since and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington believes that is a mistake.
“If you’re serious about trying to win the Open you should be playing at least one, if not two, of the events running into it. I would say two if you can handle three events in a row,” Harrington said. It is doubtful if Woods could handle that following spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 but it would be dangerous to write him off.
Can US dominance of the majors be broken?
With Woods winning the Masters, Koepka retaining his US PGA title and Gary Woodland winning the US Open, American players have won 14 of the last 19 majors and Open champion Francesco Molinari is the only non-American to currently hold a major title.
The last time American players completed a clean sweep of major titles was in 1982, when Craig Stadler won the Masters, Tom Watson the US Open and Open Championship and Ray Floyd claimed the US PGA.
Will Rory McIlroy end his major drought on home soil?
McIlroy is the course record holder at Portrush after carding a 61 in the North of Ireland Championship as a 16-year-old schoolboy and will have massive support, but his last major title came in the 2014 US PGA Championship and his most recent chance of victory fizzled out with a disappointing closing 72 in the US Open.
The previous week’s victory in Canada showed what the 30-year-old is capable of and a sell-out crowd will be hoping he can reproduce that form and lift the Claret Jug for a second time.
Will the week be a success?
In terms of hype, excitement and ticket sales, the first Open in Northern Ireland for 68 years can already be considered a triumph. Plans for an Orange parade after the third round had caused consternation in some quarters, but the parade has been scrapped and replaced with a “celebration of marching bands” which locals believe will be viewed as interesting rather than offensive.
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