14 Jul 2023

Major season: The Open preview

The tournament is golf’s original championship. Played since 1860 on iconic links golf courses, it’s the sport’s most international Major with qualifying events on every continent. For one week each year, the pursuit of the famous Claret Jug trophy is the focus of the sporting world, followed globally by millions of fans.

Royal Liverpool will once again host The Open in 2023, and present players with new challenges since it last staged the Championship in 2014, including a brand new par 3. Hoylake has had a rich history of winners, none more so than Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the previous two Championships held at Royal Liverpool this millennium.

This year, however, tweaks throughout the course, with additional bunkering, harsher run-off areas in places, new tees and an eye-catching new hole, will present the players with fresh challenges on an exceptional course.

BROTHERLY LOVE 

Matt and Alex Fitzpatrick will become the first professional English brothers to appear in the same Major in more than half a century at Hoylake. Having turned pro less than a year ago, Alex came through Final Qualifying at West Lancashire after firing an superb seven under par 65 in his second 18 to reach nine under and claim one of the five places on offer in the 72-man field.

“Ten years ago I qualified for the Open for the first time,” tweeted Matt. “Today my brother has done the same thing. I couldn’t be prouder and can’t wait to be playing the same major as him.”

 

FORMER CHAMPIONS

A total of 15 former champions will be teeing it up this year, with 57-year-old John Daly the oldest of the bunch. Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington will both be seeking a third Claret Jug, while Stewart Cink and Darren Clarke will complete the list of former champions aged 50 and over.

LIV Golf quartet Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen and Henrik Stenson will be hoping their diet of 54-hole golf will be sufficient for a shot at a second Claret Jug, but they will come up against a host of past winners playing 72-holes events week-in-week out in the shape of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari and Shane Lowry.

Unfortunately, Tiger Woods will not be present this year as he continues his rehabilitation from surgery, while Ben Curtis, David Duval, Todd Hamilton, Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie were all exempt but did not enter.

UNEXPECTED WINNER?

The Open, by definition, is the most ‘open’ of all the Majors where luck of the draw (and bounce) can play havoc with the form book and allow unheralded victors such as Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis and Paul Lawrie to step in and emerge victorious. So, who could be an unexpected winner of the Claret Jug this year?

Yannik Paul could be one eye to keep an eye on as he makes his debut in the fourth and final Major Championship of the season. The German star, currently ranked 13th in the Race to Dubai, should arrive at Royal Liverpool inside the top 100 on the Official World Golf Ranking after a host of stellar performances this season, having claimed his breakthrough DP World Tour win last October in Mallorca.

A tie for eighth – his fifth top-ten finish of the campaign – at the Betfred British Masters earlier this month lifted Paul back into an automatic qualifying position for this year’s Ryder Cup and he’ll be hoping to bank more points at Hoylake. It will take some performance against a whole host of star names, but you just never know at The Open.

END OF AN ERA

Sergio Garcia will miss The Open Championship for the first time since 1997 after he fell just short at Final Qualifying at West Lancashire. The Spaniard mixed seven birdies with two bogeys during an opening-round 67, leaving him well-placed to make a 25th consecutive appearance at The Open, only to slip down the leaderboard with a second-round 71 to leave him three strokes outside the qualification spots in tied-sixth.

“Obviously I am a little disappointed right now but that’s the game of golf and you can’t take things for granted,” said Garcia. Joining the 2016 Masters champion as an absentee will be Lee Westwood, who will miss his first Open in 28 years after the Englishman chose not to take part in Final Qualifying.

COURSE HISTORY

Royal Liverpool has hosted The Open 12 times but, after Roberto De Vicenzo was crowned Champion golfer in 1967, Hoylake was deemed not to have the infrastructure necessary for a Major.

The Open returned 39 years later, following some hard and thoughtful work by the Club which involved the purchase of additional land and improvements to the course designed, amongst other things, to meet the demands set by increasingly athletic big hitters. Tiger Woods would win that event in 2006 before Rory McIlroy captured his third Major Championship at the venue in 2014.

Royal Liverpool also hosted the Women’s British Open for the very first time in 2012, before welcoming the Walker Cup for the second time in 2019 during the club’s 150th anniversary.

COURSE RECORD

Over the duration of Royal Liverpool’s 12 Open Championships there has been plenty of stellar performances, including Gary Player shooting a then course record of 67 in the third round in 1967, which was matched moments later by eventual champion Roberto De Vicenzo.

That record stood for 39 years until the 2006 edition, where Graeme McDowell shot an opening 66, before Tiger Woods shot a spellbinding 65 en route to collecting the Claret Jug. Ernie Els and Chris DiMarco achieved the same score later that round, while Sergio Garcia joined the trio a day later. Eight years later, when The Open returned to Hoylake, nobody went lower than 66, meaning Woods, Els and DiMarco still hold the record from 17 years ago.

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