The television screen is blinding at first, but the pain is temporary. Pushed along by the slow drip of the coffee pot, the wee hours of Open Championship viewing are the highlight of the golf fan’s year.
With the Old Course on tap this week, anticipation for the Open is even higher than normal. Players have their starting times for Thursday and Friday, and in turn, golf fans their wakeup calls. There are some fantastic pairings as well as a few head-scratchers. The full tee sheet can be found HERE with some of our favorites below (all times Eastern):
Game 1 – Paul Lawrie/Webb Simpson/Min Woo Lee – Thurs. 1:35 a.m. / Fri. 6:36 a.m
The R&A always puts a player from the home country off first, and this time, 1999 Champion Golfer of the Year Paul Lawrie gets the nod at St. Andrews. Other recent lead-off hitters have included Sandy Lyle at Carnoustie, Darren Clarke at Royal Portrush, and Richard Bland at Royal St. Georges.
Game 9 – Cameron Smith/Brooks Koepka/Seamus Power – 3:03 a.m. / 8:04 a.m.
With apologies to Mr. Power, his playing partners are far more intriguing. Brooks Koepka enters the week with little to no form and hasn’t played much tournament golf this year while battling injury. His three 2022 major championship results are MC/T-55/55th, far from the imperious performances we’ve come to expect from Brooks in majors. With his LIV membership rendering his future major eligibility uncertain, every major championship start is valuable for Koepka.
Somehow, Cameron Smith has never finished better than T-20 at the Open. That doesn’t quite add up. Thankfully, St. Andrews fits his game well. He doesn’t have to be dominant off the tee to contend, and his elite iron play should help him get to the right sections of the Old Course’s undulating greens. Add in his remarkable short game and he’s clearly going to win. It’s that easy, right?
Game 19 – Collin Morikawa/Rory McIlroy/Xander Schauffele – 4:58 a.m. / 9:59 a.m.
As far as intrigue goes, it’s hard to beat Game 19. Rory McIlroy has made more headlines than any other golfer not named Phil Mickelson in 2022 and is one of two players with top 10s in each of the first three majors of 2022. (The other is Will Zalatoris.) Collin Morikawa enters as the defending champion, yet his ability to compete in windy conditions has become a subject of debate recently. And Xander Schauffele is the man of the hour. He has won in back-to-back starts at the Travelers Championship and the Scottish Open and has nine career top 10s in majors. He’s been in contention on Sunday at a major three times—2018 Open, 2019 Masters, and 2021 Masters—so he knows what it feels like. But it’s time for him to play his best at exactly the right time.
Game 21 – Will Zalatoris/Hideki Matsuyama/Tony Finau – 5:20 a.m. / 10:21 a.m
A total of six players have beaten Will Zalatoris in regulation time of major championships this year. He has finished T-6/runner-up/T-2 and was tied for the lead or leading during parts of Sunday at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. He leads the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and can control his trajectory as well as anyone in the world. Most impressive, as Andy Lack pointed out, is Zalatoris’s +1.45 SG: Putting in major championships this year, especially considering his -0.6 SG: Putting in non-majors. That’s eight shots per tournament! Like 2017-19 Koepka, something clearly happens to Willy Z in majors, and it would be a surprise if he weren’t in contention this weekend.
Game 37 – Scottie Scheffler/Joaquín Niemann/Tyrrell Hatton – 8:26 a.m. / 3:25 a.m.
Scottie Scheffler has played in nine major championships over the past three seasons and has finished worse than T-19 exactly once. His only appearance at the Open came at Royal St. George’s last year, one of the courses on the Open rota that allows for more aerial attack, so we don’t exactly know how Scottie will perform on a crispy Old Course. Let’s hope he at least arrived because he may not be sure whether TOC is in Scotland or Ireland.
Tyrrell Hatton’s temper vs. Open conditions should be fun to watch, but in terms of playing style, Niemann will be the one to keep an eye on. He can hit some of the lowest shots you’ve seen, so he should be able to generate some serious roll-out this week. Few things are more entertaining to a golf sicko than the sight of a ball scuttling across undulating ground.
Game 45 – Tiger Woods/Matt Fitzpatrick/Max Homa – 9:59 a.m. / 4:58 a.m.
Quickly on Tiger, this may be the last time we see him play the Open at St. Andrews. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but he clearly appreciates what this week means, and he’s doing everything he can to be a competitive threat. There’s only a slight chance that he’ll contend, but if there is a venue where he could do it, it’s St. Andrews.
In a very different phase of his career, Matt Fitzpatrick could leave the Old Course in a different stratosphere. Not only has he added distance to his well-rounded golf game, but he’s starting to become one of “the guys” in majors. He finished T-14 at the Masters this spring and has rattled off a T-5 at the PGA and, last month, a win at the U.S. Open. Only five golfers have won two majors in a row in the 21st century: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods. That would be rarefied air for Fitzy.
And Max Homa is about to have the week of his life. He’s also No. 19 in the Official World Golf Ranking, so no one would be surprised if he got in the mix.
Game 46 – Jordan Spieth/Jon Rahm/Harold Varner III – 10:10 a.m. / 5:09 a.m.
Guess how many combined top 10s this group has in 2022. If you guessed zero, you’re correct. Despite his “victory” at the Mexico Open, Rahm hasn’t played well all year. Spieth has performed better overall but not as well as his pre-tournament hype would suggest. That said, this is St. Andrews and you can throw most pre-tournament form out the window. If you want a player who has the out-of-the-box thinking required to hit creative shots into and around the greens at the Old Course, it’s
Michael Greller Jordan Spieth.