After a 58-year gap, the Open Championship returns to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
In terms of Opens, the Claret Jug has alternated between the United States and Europe since Phil Mickelson won at Muirfield in 2013.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This week's Open Championship can be seen on NBC and Golf Channel. Viewers can Stream Live on Golf Channel.
The one Open to be held at Royal Portrush was won by England's Max Faulkner in 1951.
Runner-up Antonio Cerda of Argentina was the only other player to shoot under par.
Local man Fred Daly of Northern Ireland (the 1947 winner) finished a creditable tied fourth that year but Rory McIlroy will have only one thing on his mind this week, a victory and a first major since 2014.
Some stats to get us going...
Top five finishers in last 5 Opens
Winning scores and stats in 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush (last tour event played there)
1. Jamie Donaldson (DD: 8, DA: 35, GIR: 64, Scr: 5, PA: 1, AA: 3)
2. Rafa Cabrera Bello (DD: 51, DA: 25, GIR: 5, Scr: 27, PA: 23, AA: 10)
2. Anthony Wall (DD: 39, DA 9, GIR: 43, Scr: 2, PA: 4, AA: 11)
2. Fabrizio Zanotti (DD: 22, DA: 15, GIR: 13, Scr: 49, PA: 33, AA: 11)
The Course - Royal Portrush
Set by the windswept North Atlantic coast, Royal Portrush is one of the world's most iconic courses. In true links fashion, there are rolling dunes, tricky undulating greens, deep bunkers (although less here than any other course on the Open rota) and spectacular scenery. Originally designed by Old Tom Morris before Harry Colt reworked it in the 1930s, there's been a further alteration for this year's Open performed by Martin Ebert with two new holes added (sixth and seventh) from the adjoining Valley Course and the weaker 17th and 18th discarded to make way for the tented village. It can be attacked with driver but the landing areas can be shallow and there is risk involved on several holes. Latest reports describe the rough as healthy and the fairways as firm despite recent rains. The course is set to measure in at 7,344 yards and play as a par 71.
More rain should hit the course on Wednesday while the official Met office forecast for the first 36 holes reads: "Some sunny spells and scattered showers on Thursday. Cloudy with further rain on Friday." Temperatures are in the low 50s for the early starters each day but should rise to the mid-60s by late morning/afternoon. Sun, cloud and a chance of rain is also in the forecast for the weekend. As for winds, it's an inexact science but they look fairly modest although it could be gusty for the early starters on Thursday.
The Leading Contenders
Rory's 61 at Portrush as a 16-year-old amateur is getting lots of attention ahead of this week but his actual Open record is being slightly ignored. Quite simply, it's been superb over the last five years - 1-DNP-5-4-2. Top ten in the last two majors, he heads home having won twice this season and ranks 1st in SG: Tee-To-Green on the PGA TOUR. Perhaps the biggest question is can he handle the pressure of winning an Open on his home Northern Irish soil? That's partly answered by him capturing the Irish Open three years ago with an eagle at the final hole. "To play like that and finish like that, with all of my friends and family watching was just so special," he said later. McIlroy could well be bringing out that same speech on Sunday night.
On recent form in Ireland, Rahm is the man to beat this week. He's had three cracks at the Irish Open and finished first, fourth and first. His debut win came at Portstewart, a ten-minute drive away from Royal Portrush, while his most recent triumph occurred at Lahinch just two weeks ago. A third place in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach means the Spaniard now has a top four in all three U.S. majors so he's warming to the task at this level and current form of 1-2-3 means he couldn't be heading to the Open in better shape.
Famously tied fourth in ill-fitting clothing as a teenage amateur in 1998, it took Rose 20 years to beat that Open finish. Last year's tied second at Carnoustie added to tied sixth at St Andrews in 2015 so he's done better at adjusting his game back from America having missed three cuts in four years from 2010-2013. Rose has improved (MC-29-3) as the majors season has gone on although there was a slight smoke-and-mirrors element to his top three at Pebble Beach as he didn't strike it well. Tricky to assess this week as he hasn't played since the U.S. Open but 4th in SG: Putting is noteworthy.
The Englishman has the game and temperament to challenge for Claret Jugs for years to come. He grew up playing links golf in Southport and is a two-time runner-up of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Also T8 when hosting the British Masters at Hillside in May but a little patchy since then, settling for T23 in the Irish Open two weeks ago. Fleetwood missed his first three Open cuts but has finished T27 and T12 (last year) in the latest two. No surprise if he's on the Sunday leaderboard.
Back-to-back Open winners don't come along very often although Padraig Harrington managed it in 2007 and 2008 and perhaps there are some similarities between the two in terms of peaking in their mid-30s. The Italian was in red-hot form going into last year's Open but that isn't the case this time and he's not managed a top 15 in five starts since having a great chance to win at Augusta National. One bonus is that Molinari contested the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush and finished T10.
Often it's about timing and one of Europe's form horses going into this year's Open is the Swede. After a flat season, he's picked up the pace with T8 in Canada, T9 in the U.S. Open and T4 in last week's Scottish Open. He's ranked in the top two for Driving Accuracy in all three and hit over 90% of GIR last week so his long game is in great shape. Then, of course, there is his superb Open pedigree which shows a win at Royal Troon in 2016 and three other top threes. Deserves a very a close look this week.
Had a big chance to win the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2010 before being blown away by Louis Oosthuizen and has managed just a single top 40 in seven subsequent appearances, T11 at Royal Birkdale in 2017. T29 at the PGA and T21 in the U.S. Open, he's been solid enough in recent majors while he boasts a win (Valspar), a second (Pebble), a third (WGC-Mexico), a fourth (Wells Fargo) and a fifth (Travelers) this season. Ranks 17th in SG: Approach but 141st in SG: Putting.
Missed his only Open cut in 2018 but his huge surge up the world rankings has been reflected in recent major performances. The Englishman was T19 at last summer's PGA, T3 in this year's edition and T12 at Pebble Beach. Further links form can be found via a near-miss second place at May's British Masters while he's honed his game for this test with T55 at the Irish Open and T14 at the Scottish Open so will be looking to peak for Portrush.
After a late qualification, the hometown boy is thrilled to be taking part in the place where he grew up and G-Mac has played Portrush hundreds of times. Competitively, he took T16 in the 2012 Irish Open held there (Rory was T10 incidentally) while he returned to play more practice rounds earlier this month. Since punching his ticket with T8 in Canada and T16 at Pebble (scene of his 2010 U.S. Open win), he's missed cuts in the Irish and Scottish Opens but there's a sense he's saving himself for the big one.
Rory and G-Mac will draw huge crowds but there's another Irishman with a chance of getting in the mix this week. Lowry won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, has a WGC in the bag and went close to a first major in the 2016 U.S. Open before finishing runner-up to DJ. He checked out Portrush during Irish Open week (he was T51 there in the 2012 Irish Open) and has three top tens in his last six worldwide starts so could be an interesting contender although, confusingly, he's missed his last four Open cuts since T9 at Hoylake in 2014.