Here are a few sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, and dehydrated observations from round one of the 2019 Open Championship:
The curse of a home game
Golf isn’t quite like other sports: a home game isn’t always a good thing. This week was Rory McIlroy’s first chance to play a big one as a professional, and it got off to a tumultuous start, with an opening quadruple-bogey 8. The snowman set the tone for his round, which included a charge but also a four-putt double on 16 and a triple on 18.
Home games can raise expectations and add a new layer to tournament golf. The familiarity, rooting fans, and heightened expectations ironically lead to a feeling of unfamiliarity and discomfort for pro golfers, who are used to being on the road. And when routine gets disrupted, strange things can happen. For Rory, playing major championship golf in front of a home crowd is a new feel. Clearly he’s not too comfortable with it.
Koepka lag putting
Not surprisingly, Brooks Koepka is at it again. The more major championship play from Brooks I watch, the more I admire his lag putting. Major golf is about making pars and not giving away shots. It puts you in many precarious situations on and around the greens, and this is where Koepka excels. This weekend, pay attention to how stress-free Koepka makes his life on the greens, consistently leaving tap-ins after long lag putts.
Started with a grimace
Watching Tiger play today was depressing. There was no silver lining in his game, no positive to take away. From the first tee shot—and the coinciding grimace—you knew it wasn’t his day.
I’m not a doctor, so I’ll limit my speculation, but it seems that chilly weather isn’t his friend. If you look through his best finishes since his return from fusion surgery, you see a trend of good play with warm weather. He won at a warm, muggy Augusta and in September in Atlanta. He finished second in late-summer St. Louis at last year’s PGA and T-6 at the unbearably hot and humid BMW in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, sweater weather has yielded a no-point performance at the Ryder Cup, an MC at Bethpage, a T-30 at the Players, and a T-21 at the US Open. While this is hardly scientifically significant, it’s certainly an interesting trend.
The new lettuce fad
In a tie for 15th at -2 is 24-year-old Romain Langasque. Some may remember the up-and-coming Frenchman from the 2016 Masters, which he qualified for by winning the British Amateur. His road in pro golf hasn’t been as easy as that of many of his young-gun counterparts. After turning pro in 2016, Langasque had a standout year on the Challenge Tour, earning his Euro Tour card. But aside from a top 10 in his first start of 2017, he struggled for two years. Getting his card back for 2019 thanks to Q-School, Langasque is back in the limelight with four top-five finishes (fourth best on the Euro Tour) and now in the mix at the Open after a round of 69. It’s a reminder that for every immediate success, there is a former phenom having to take the more common, frustration-riddled path to professional golf.
One last (?) run for Westy
I’m admittedly a Lee Westwood homer, but how fun is it having the best active player without a major in the hunt at age 46? He has had many close calls in majors: 18 top 10s over the course of his career. So of all the possible storylines, a Westy win might be the best one. Golf has the ability to beat players down, and he might have taken more jabs than any other player in the field. It’s early, though, and Westwood’s struggles typically come on the weekend, but the harder it blows, the more I like this rock-steady ball-striker to be around till at least Sunday.
Big numbers lurk
Through one round, one thing is clear about Royal Portrush: it can induce doubles or worse swiftly. Only four players in the field—Tommy Fleetwood, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Tony Finau and Shub Sharma—were able to get through their rounds bogey-free. If the wind continues to be a factor, the tournament could come down to which player does the best job avoiding big numbers.