A look ahead to the 144th Open Championship

The Open is one of golf’s four major championship events and features some of the greatest professionals on the planet. Every year, the top players in the world descend on St Andrews as they compete in a three-day event for one of the sport’s most prestigious trophies. This year’s championship will begin on the 16th July and the 2015 Open event could see the winner’s prize money pass the £1 million total for the very first time. Last year’s champion Rory McIlroy – and current world number one – will be looking to defend his crown against some of the world’s best players, including England’s Justin Rose and Masters champion Jordan Spieth. The Northern Irishman will be quietly confident of his chances after an excellent start to the 2015 season but will remain level headed as he prepares for the upcoming event.

The second major of the golfing season, the US Open, is set to get under way this week and the 26-year-old will compete directly with defending champion Martin Kaymer after the two were paired together in the draw. Although this tournament may not give any clues towards Scotland’s event next month, McIlroy will be looking to land a huge psychological blow to Kaymer and the other competitors as he aims to remain clear as the best player in the world. At the time of writing, the Northern Irishman is priced at 4/1 with betfair to retain the Open Championship in July, while world number two Jordan Spieth is valued at 9/1. The tournament is one of the greatest competitions on the sporting calendar and golf fans from all over the world are set to attend the world famous event. We consider just a few of the contenders for the 144th Open Championship and provide our thoughts on their chances this year.

McIlroy will fancy his chances of retaining his title this year as he attempts to claim the fifth major championship of his career. The Northern Irishman won two professional tournaments last month – the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship and the Wells Fargo Championship – and will be looking to take that form into the summer months. In fact, McIlroy set a new record at the Wells Fargo Championship as he finished seven strokes ahead of his nearest competitor, completing four rounds of golf in just 267 shots. In 2014’s Open Championship, he earned a thrilling two shot victory over Spain’s Sergio Garcia and America’s Rickie Fowler to join Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win three of golf’s major championships under the age of 25. If he can defend his crown and win a fifth major title, he will further stake his claim as one of the greatest golf players of all-time. McIlroy will be hoping to celebrate this year’s tournament in a similar style to last year.

However, new kid on the block Spieth is threatening McIlroy’s dominance in the sport and the youngster will fancy his chances of causing an upset in this year’s Open Championship. The newly crowned Masters champion – who broke a number of records at Augusta National this year – is full of confidence after a phenomenal start to the calendar year but has struggled in recent weeks. The 21-year-old missed the cut in May’s Players Championship while he finished joint-17th in the Match Play Championship. Despite these setbacks, Spieth has climbed up to second in the world rankings and will plan on displacing the Northern Irishman at the top of the standings in the near future. The American is extremely talented and is a future candidate for the number one player in the world. If he can improve his consistency in the build-up to this event, Spieth will stand a great chance of claiming his second major title of the season.

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England’s Justin Rose is also having a sensational year and could feature among the leaders throughout the event. The world number six finished second to Jordan Spieth at Augusta, finishing with an incredible 14-under-par score. In fact, that total would have been good enough to win each of the previous three tournaments, but the young American was just too good. Since the Masters, Rose has gone on to perform well in a number of competitions. The Englishman won the Zurich Classic, finishing on 22-under-par, while he also finished ahead of Spieth in the Memorial Tournament as he claimed second place. Rose has struggled at the Open Championship throughout his illustrious career but, with a bit of luck, he is more than capable of making the cut and, at the very least, should be looking to equal his greatest ever finish of fourth at the iconic event.

The Open Championship is set to be competitive and there could be a number of shock performances that light up the tournament. American Phil Mickelson remains a top player and is capable of beating the very best on his day, while Tiger Woods has struggled for consistency and recently hit a career-worst round of 85 at the Memorial Tournament. McIlroy and Spieth are likely to be there or thereabouts and should climb up the leaderboard as the championship progresses. The newly crowned Masters champion will be hungry for a second major in 2015, but title holder McIlroy may be too strong as the Northern Irishman hunts a fifth major success.

Phil Mickelson deserves his British sweep

Just like the UK’s infamous public transport system, you wait 21 years for a golf title on British soil and suddenly two come along at once. That must be how Phil Mickelson felt on Sunday night after he careered to the Open Championship crown just a week after winning the Scottish Open, breaking a two-decade duck this side of the Atlantic.

Phil Mickelson, 43, deservedly landed his fifth – and maybe the greatest – major of his career at Muirfield, rising from the ranks on the back nine to birdie at the 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th holes. A 66 final round left him three shots clear of the field and eventually standing with the Claret Jug.

Few fans who bet on golf will begrudge the leftie this victory, for Mickelson has come agonisingly close to greatness at the Open. Since his debut in 1991, he has come third once and tied second in 2011 behind Darren Clarke. Having not won a major since the Masters in 2010 (including a sixth runner-up spot at the US Open this year), it was feared Big Phil was gradually on the slide yet this tournament victory puts his career right back on track.

What was so impressive, and what makes him a good favourite to win the PGA Championship later this season, is that he managed to beat the links courses that have so often plagued his game. While many of the world’s top stars avoided the Scottish Open the week before, Mickelson used his four rounds at Castle Stuart to implement a confidence base from which to tackle Muirfield.

It certainly worked on that glorious back nine on Sunday, which is where Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood slipped up their challenge. Golf betting fans can expect plenty more from Mickelson this season and even if he doesn’t win the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, he will place within the top-10 on this performance.

Which is the greatest opening hole in golf’s Open Championship

Padraig Harrington & Colin Montgomerie discuss 'The Ultimate Open 18'
Padraig Harrington & Colin Montgomerie discuss 'The Ultimate Open 18'

Which is the greatest opening hole in golf’s Open Championship, or the best around the turn, or indeed the finest finishing hole?

These are questions golfers ask and debate up and down the land. HSBC, celebrating its first year as Patron of the Open Championship, decided to take that debate a step further by engaging two of the world’s finest golfers of recent times, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, to create a course of the finest holes in Open Championship golf, “The HSBC Ultimate Open 18“.

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HSBC asked each of the players, who with 35 Open appearances between them know a thing or two about Open Championship golf, to produce an 18 hole Open Championship course, using holes from the nine courses on the current Open rota. Their brief was simple: to create a genuine Championship course in terms of length and par and with the sequence of holes corresponding to the actual hole number on the respective course, as played at The Open. They were then pitted against one another in debate, with the BBC’s Andrew Cotter keeping order, to produce the HSBC Ultimate Open 18, potentially the greatest of Open courses, were it to be played for real!

Padraig Harrington commented:

“I really enjoyed the whole process as it’s a discussion we often have. But taking it to the next level, actually to create a whole course, was a real challenge, as well as a lot of fun! There are so many great golf holes on all the Open courses that it’s sometimes hard to pick out one above another. I chose to look at both the design of the hole and the strategy required to play it while, of course, my emotions came into play. My own personal experiences, including the great weeks I enjoyed at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale, and the history and theatre that I feel when at the home of golf, St. Andrews, for example, were definitely part of my decision making. I’m sure not everyone will agree to every selection – Monty certainly didn’t!”

The HSBC Ultimate Open 18

Both players brought a rich experience to the table. Irishman Padraig Harrington has won two Opens (’07 and ’08) and played in 14. Colin Montgomerie holds course records at St Andrews and Carnoustie, finished second in the Open at St Andrews in 2005 and has played an incredible 21 consecutive Open Championships. But they also brought a different approach.

“I focused purely on the quality of the hole, though undoubtedly those that suit me better, the 12th at Royal Birkdale for example, came ahead of others.” said eight-times European Order of Merit Winner, Colin Montgomerie.

“I found it a fascinating exercise and I’m sure plenty of players, professional and amateur alike, will come up to us at Sandwich to tell us we got it wrong. But that’s one of the reasons why we love The Open, because we have nine wonderful courses which all bring their own challenge, their own unique qualities to bear. I look forward to the debate to come!”

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The final HSBC Ultimate Open 18 course they agreed on is certainly a challenge to ponder. At 7,264 yards, it’s comparable to this year’s Open course at Royal St George’s, Sandwich for example. But it’s the par 3s that really stand out, with four of the toughest to be found on any course.

Group Head of Sponsorship, Giles Morgan, said:

“HSBC has been involved in golf at all levels since 2003 and in HSBC’s first year as Patron of the Open Championship, we wanted to do something to celebrate one of the unique features of the event which include the wonderful group of links courses on which the Championship is played. Just imagine a round of golf that includes The Postage Stamp, Barry Burn and the Road Hole – sounds good, doesn’t it? We hope that golf fans everywhere will enjoy the HSBC Ultimate Open.”

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British Golfers lead the world rankings ahead of the Open

It is the first time since the official golf world rankings began in 1986 that the top 3 positions have been taken by British golfers.

Three British golfers head up the official world rankings as Germany’s former no.1, Martin Kaymer drops to fourth after failing to finish in the top eight in the BMW International Open in Munich yesterday.

Following his U.S Open victory Rory McIlroy moves up to a career best third place behind Luke Donald (first) and Lee Westwood.

This is great news ahead of the 140th British Open Championship which this year is being held at the Royal St. George’s Golf Course in Sandwich in Kent, the Garden of England on the south-east coast, in two weeks time.

Rory McIlroy will go into the British Open as one of the favourites, and it will be good to see how he copes with the pressure post that fantastic display of golf at The U.S Open when he led from round 1 and never once showed a loss of concentrate or bottle as he had on the final round of the U.S Masters in April at Augusta.

The U.S Open was Rory McIlroy’s first major win after several near misses and five years of dealing with the heavy burden of expectancy and praise from many of his contemporaries and commentators alike.  Unfortunately, I think if anything the pressure is going to be greater as everyone looks to see if Rory McIlroy can begin to pull away from the rest of the field and dominate the next few years of golf in the same way as Tiger Woods had before him.

If anymore incentive was required, it has been announced that the winner’s cheque for the British Open is now £900,000 as prize-fund money increases to £5m.

Some high profile PGA players will be missing the AT&T National in the U.S to play The Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness as a warming up for the Open Championship.  Those PGA players making the trip across the pond include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker, who join English golfers Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose.

The Barclays Scottish Open starts on Thursday 7th July with Round 1 of The Open commencing on Thursday on 14th July.

I am really looking forward to this year’s British Open and hope the heat wave continues so the top golfers in the world can do battle with each other, rather than the conditions.

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Rory McIlroy to dominate the future of golf

The 2011 US Open was won in spectacular fashion by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy by eight strokes. He was the youngest winner for some 88 years but the youngest ever US Open Champion was John J. McDermott in 1911 at the tender age of 19.

Many commentators are suggesting that now Rory McIlroy has won his first major title he will dominate the future of golf for some years to come, filling the void left by Tiger Woods in the past couple of years following a recurring knee problem and a breakdown in his personal life.

McIlroy has got much to live up to if he is going to be as successful as Tiger Woods who has won three US Open titles in 2000, 2002 and most recently in 2008 when he was playing with the knee injury that subsequently had him miss the rest of the 2008 season.  Since his return Tiger Woods had failed to find his form and is now in danger of dropping out of the top 20 world ranking.

Rory McIlroy will need to win the US Open a further three times to equal the record of four wins jointly held by Willie Anderson, A-Robert T. Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus.  The latter being a mentor to the young Irishman over the past two years.

The next major championship in the golf calendar is the British Open which this year is being held at the Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent.  So why not go online and buy a new set of golf clubs learn to play the shots the pros make look so simple.

You can buy the same golf clubs, balls and clothes as Rory McIlroy at Direct Golf.

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