Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and more


Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and more

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The 150th edition of The Open could very well end up being one of the best in its turbulent history, depending on what happens at the Old Course in St Andrews on Sunday.

Seven of the top 12 players in the official world rankings are within 8 strokes of leaders Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy, who are 16 strokes under and have a 4 stroke advantage going into the final 18 holes.

There are many storylines: McIlroy will attempt to end an eight-year drought without a major. Hovland, Cameron Young, Cameron Smith, Si Woo Kim and Tommy Fleetwood chase their first big wins. Scottie Scheffler, 5 shots behind, will be looking to put an end to one of the greatest seasons in golf history. US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick will be looking to win a second straight Major.

Are we in for a shootout between Hovland and McIlroy on the last lap, or will the Old Course finally bare its teeth and let others back in?

“I don’t know,” said Hovland. “A lot of things can happen. With these conditions and these pin placements you can play well and shoot at eye level and that brings a lot of other guys with you. So it just depends on the conditions its like [Sunday]the pin positions and frankly how we play.”

Who will win the Claret Jug on Sunday? Here’s why the top contenders win and why not:

Why he can win: Hovland, who learned to play golf at an indoor facility in Norway, is one of the most talented young players in the world. The 24-year-old has won twice on the European Tour and three times on the PGA Tour, including the World Wide Technology Championship in Mayakoba in November. He is the first Norwegian player to hold a lead or co-lead after a round at a Major.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else that would top that,” Hovland said. “Growing up in Norway, I always watched the Open Championship much longer than, for example, the Masters. Yeah, to win a major that’s closest to where I live, that would be really cool.”

Hovland drives the ball extremely well and is a great ball forward. He finished 10th for the week. On the tour in strokes won: Approaching the green. On the Old Course he hit 44 of 54 greens in the first three rounds. Hovland is also becoming a better putter; he made putts of 38 feet, 42 feet and 19 feet during a series of four straight birdies on Saturday.

Why he can’t win: As talented as Hovland is, he hasn’t been great in the majors, albeit with limited opportunities. He hasn’t had a top 10 finish in his last eight major starts as a pro. His best result in a Major is a tie for 12th place, which he achieved as a low amateur at the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach and at last year’s Open at Royal St. George’s.

As good as Hovland’s putter has been lately, will it hold up under the pressure? And what about the rest of his short game? His chipping was atrocious early in his career. He came into the week ranked 204th in shots won around the green. Will it bite him on the last lap?

Why he can win: Outside of Scheffler, McIlroy could be the best player in the world this season. He has won twice on tour and finished in the top 10 at each of the first three majors for the first time in his career, including a solo runner-up at the Masters. He drives the ball as well as anyone and places the ball at a world-class level.

Despite not winning a major in nearly eight full seasons, McIlroy has been exceptionally good on major weekends. Yes, part of his success came when he was out of competition and fighting his way into the top 5 finishes. Still, McIlroy is down in the majors by 33, the best of any golfer in the Masters era, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He’ll be through most of the gallery on Sunday and it feels like it’s finally time for McIlroy again.

Why he can’t win: How many times have we been here? 30 majors have been played since McIlroy won his last, the 2014 PGA Championship in Valhalla. Twenty-two golfers have won majors in that span, but not McIlroy. Can he finally avoid the disasters that have ruined his chances in the past?

Why he can win: The PGA Tour rookie has looked like he belonged since his second start of the season, finishing second at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Since then, Young has finished second at the Genesis Invitational and third at the PGA Championship. In his first 20 starts, he already has five top 10 finishes. Obviously, the New York product isn’t afraid of the big stage.

Young, who played with Wake Forest, is one of the most powerful players on the tour. He managed a whopping 369.6 yards per drive on Saturday. His iron game was also better this week. In the first two rounds, he led The Open field in strokes won: tee to green by more than one stroke.

Why he can’t win: Young is playing his first Opens – in the “home of golf” no less. Can there be more pressure? It’s not like beginners never win The Open on their debuts; Collin Morikawa did last year at Royal St. George’s. But it’s only happened 10 times in 150 years, and Young is a newcomer.

Why he can win: Smith loves birdie fests (his 34-under total in the Sentry Tournament of Champions is a testament) and no one on the tour has been better at capitalizing on birdie opportunities this season than he has been. He also did well under pressure. When Smith won the Players in March, he had eight one-putts in the last nine holes to put away.

The Aussie is one of the best putters in the world and his flat club was red hot for the first two rounds. He made an incredible 253 foot putts while shooting 8-under 64 in the second round. Even if Smith missed more than a few chances in the third round, he won’t be lacking in confidence on Sunday. It’s obvious he’s not scared much given his kit choice on Saturday.

Why he doesn’t win: As good as Smith’s putter was for the first 36 holes, it wasn’t all that reliable on Saturday. After needing just 28 putts each on the first two rounds, he needed 35 on the third. Smith missed a 5-foot on the very first hole and bogeyed. He never got anything done there.

Just like his 12th hole shot on the last round of the Masters that landed in Rae’s Creek and resulted in a triple bogey, you have to wonder if Smith’s double bogey in 13th place on Saturday might have cost him another chance at his first big win.

Why he can win: In its 150-year history, The Open has produced some quite unexpected champions, including Ian Baker-Finch (1991), Paul Lawrie (1999), Ben Curtis (2003) and Todd Hamilton (2004). Kim would certainly fit the bill given his recent form and history in majors.

However, give credit to the South Korean player. He is resourceful and has some guts. On Saturday he hit a fabulous flop shot from the green to the road hole and saved par. He’s a three-time Tour winner, so it’s not like he’s never won before.

Why he can’t win: It’s probably asking too much of Kim to put together a round that would bring down the best players in the world.

Kim clinched his third PGA Tour win at American Express in January 2021, but he hasn’t done much this season. He has a top-10 finish in 24 starts at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October and has missed the cut in each of his last three starts. He has never had a top-10 in 22 major starts and had missed more cuts (11) than he had made (10).

Why he can win: Scheffler is ranked No. 1 in the world and has won more than anyone this season. He hadn’t won on Tour until 2021, but then that spring he picked up four wins from six starts, including the Masters. He placed second at the US Open.

Scheffler is balanced and seems unfazed by pressure. If he wins the Claret Jug, he will be the author of one of the greatest seasons in golf history. Only four other players have won five times in a single season, including the Masters and The Open: Ben Hogan in 1953, Arnold Palmer in 1962, Tom Watson in 1977 and Tiger Woods in 2005. This is elite society, and that’s how good Scheffler has been in recent years five months.

Why he doesn’t win: Is Scheffler too far behind? The greatest Open 54-hole comeback came in 1999 when Lawrie recovered from a 10-shot deficit. Unfortunately for Scheffler, Jean van de Velde is not ahead of him on the scoreboard. Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els came back from 6 recordings in 2007 and 2012 respectively.

“Guys are pretty good at golf,” Scheffler said. “There’s a lot of talent out here and I’m sticking with it. Aside from a few putts going in [Saturday], I could have been a lot closer to the top, but that’s the way it goes. I hit a lot of good putts out there. You’re just dodging the trophy. But looks like I’ll probably go back about 6 shots [Sunday]. You never know what can happen.”

Why he can win: One of the best players in the world, DJ has won 24 times on tour, including two majors. How much talent does he have? On Sunday, Johnson missed his tee shot on the #18, one of golf’s most famous holes, but still somehow made a birdie. He came down to under 12 after 12 holes on the third round but made too many mistakes on the course. Still, he has the talent to bounce back if the lead falters on Sunday.

Why he doesn’t win: There are 72 holes in The Open.

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