It’s a long trip from Weekly 18 headquarters to this week’s Open Championship. How long? Long enough to ponder anagrams for Royal Birkdale, which include Bad Roar Likely (but at least never a “Baba Booey” over here), Ladylike Arbor (strange for a links course), A Dorky Liberal (hey, it’s not a Trump-owned venue) and Railroad By Elk (an obvious reference to Rory McIlroy‘s decreased social media presence — and on-course performance). On to bigger, and undoubtedly more pressing, issues as this W18 is all Open, all the time.
1. I didn’t just pick Rickie Fowler to win this year’s Masters. I wrote an entire column detailing exactly why it would happen. That’s the kind of thing that’ll get a guy the #OldTakesExposed treatment, but instead I’m doubling down. That’s right: I’m picking Fowler to win The Open. He loves links golf, but more importantly, he’s ready to win a major. When he walked off Erin Hills after the final round last month, another golden opportunity gone awry, there was a quiet confidence around him, one which suggested he knows something we don’t. He then said all the right things: He was pleased with his play that week; if he keeps knocking on the door, he’ll win one; he can’t let that pressure bother him too much. That’s the kind of attitude that gets rewarded. It’s the kind of attitude that has me picking him to win this week — again.
2. The most common mistake made by the masses when it comes to predictions? It’s the same thing those commercials often warn in regard to the stock market: Past performance is not indicative of future results. Don’t believe it? Ask the crowd that for years clung to the notion that Sergio Garcia would never win a major. Someday soon those crowing that Fowler will never claim one — and it’s a large group — will be eating that crow instead. Just because something has never happened before doesn’t mean it never will.
3. The alarms have officially sounded for Rory McIlroy. Last week, he missed a second consecutive cut for the first time in more than two years and he’s now MC’d in three of his past four starts, which equals the same number as he owned in his previous 25 tournaments. At Dundonald in the Scottish Open, he reached only 50 percent of greens in regulation and needed 30 putts per round — each number below the field average. That’s an ugly combination.
4. The biggest issue for McIlroy? According to him, it’s the fact that he still hasn’t played enough tournament golf this year, having twice been sidelined already due to a recurring rib injury. “I’ve been playing catch-up all year,” he said after the latest MC. “I just haven’t played enough. I’d love to have played more.” Therein lies a Catch-22: McIlroy needs more competitive rounds to play better, but must play better in order to get more competitive rounds. At some point, something’s gotta give.
5. My buddy Michael Collins and I recorded a podcast with Rafa Cabrera-Bello a few months ago and I came away from the conversation thinking that he walks, talks, looks and acts like a superstar. The only thing missing is that superstar résumé, but it’s getting there. RCB won the Scottish Open in a playoff — somehow, just his first victory in the past half-decade — and should be a hot name for punters going into this week.
6. I mean, seriously, how good is this guy’s life? Cabrera-Bello was born in the Canary Islands, lives in Dubai, owns a place in the surfing haven of Bali and is engaged to a Swedish model. Oh, and he’s really good at golf and a nice guy and makes a great living. Yeah, decent life, I suppose.
7. These were Padraig Harrington’s four rounds at the Scottish Open: 67-68-79-66 (T-4). (Raise your hand if you can spot the outlier.) On the surface, it might look discouraging that one poor round ruined his chances of just a second European Tour victory in the past nine years. Really, though, the entire result should offer a huge boost of optimism going forward. Just a month ago, Harrington was hit on the elbow by the practice swing of an amateur golfer while giving a clinic and believed he might’ve suffered a career-ending injury. Instead, he returned a few weeks later and has quickly become relevant once again.
8. If you didn’t watch Harrington play last week, you’re in for a treat. His current swing can be described only as Modified Happy Gilmore as he steps into the ball at address and lifts his front foot during the backswing. “Every player knows those moves,” he explained. “They’re training drills, pretty much.” Well, they’re also working right now — and it’s pretty fun to watch, too.
9. Harrington, of course, won The Open the last time it was contested at Royal Birkdale, back in 2008. He hadn’t been back to the course since, until a recent visit for a corporate outing. I asked him about that visit afterward and while he explained it didn’t uncover any forgotten memories, he did try to recreate his famed 5-wood from 249 yards on the 17th hole that landed 3 feet away and led to a decisive eagle. “It took more club; it was a different wind, though,” he told me, then offered the greater reason why he couldn’t get it there: “You just can’t recreate the adrenaline.”
10. Ian Poulter is back, finishing T-9 this past week in Scotland. Love him or hate him, Poulter is good for golf. Why? Because there are so few players in the game who inspire enough passion from the masses that they are simultaneously loved by some and hated by others. Golf needs polarizing figures, players whose mere presence on a leaderboard is a conversation-starter. For years, Poulter has often played the role of villain, whether via Ryder Cup histrionics or social media braggadocio. The game doesn’t need to become professional wrestling, but having more players with variable Q ratings isn’t a bad thing for business.
11. Matt Kuchar posted a 3-under 69 on Sunday for a semi-back-door top-10 at the Scottish Open. He does that fairly frequently — so does McIlroy — but it’s usually looked upon with disdain. I’ve never understood that. Would people prefer a guy plays better on Thursday and Friday, then falls off during the weekend? The “back-door” top-10 is just another way of saying he played his best when it mattered the most.
12. Tommy Fleetwood is going to play the role of media darling this week. He grew up in Southport, England, and used to sneak onto Royal Birkdale when he could. But the affable 26-year-old obviously has plenty of game, too. He enters The Open with four consecutive top-10 results, including a solo fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open and a win at the Open de France. So much for the hometown kid flying in here under the radar.
13. One of sports’ great debates will once again bubble to the surface this week. You might call it the “British Open” — but those are fighting words in the U.K., where this tournament is either The Open Championship or just The Open. (And where the PGA Championship is often referred to as the U.S. PGA, almost as if in retaliation.) I get the argument. “The Open” could mistakenly refer to the U.S. Open — or any other Open, for that matter. But if that’s what the tournament officially calls itself, then that’s what it is.
14. The last Open at Royal Birkdale was the first of back-to-back title contentions for senior-eligible players. First, it was Greg Norman in 2008 at 53, who actually led going into the back-nine on Sunday. The next year, Tom Watson came within a final-hole par of winning at 59. We don’t have to look too far for this week’s candidate. Steve Stricker is “only” 50, but he’s still playing some terrific golf. After making the cut on the number at the John Deere Classic, he shot 65-64 on the weekend to sail up the leaderboard for a T-5 finish. Now he heads to an event where he was solo fourth last year after skipping the previous three editions.
15. Just in case someone, somewhere, still believes golf is an “old-man sport,” here are the ages of the past six PGA Tour winners: 23, 23, 29, 23, 27, 24. The latest to join that list is 23-year-old Bryson DeChambeau, yet another talented youngster who is proving himself on the game’s biggest stage. With his win at the John Deere Classic, he’ll also claim a spot in this week’s Open — a worthy addition. DeChambeau has been featured in national TV commercials even before winning; as others can attest, it’s not easy to live up to that pressure. He has done it now, which should make the victory even sweeter.
16. Oh, Callum Shinkwin. Poor Callum Shinkwin. Dude needed to make a par on the reachable par-5 closing hole at Dundonald in the Scottish Open for his first career win, then went for it in two, flubbed a chip and left a 5-foot par putt short. Then he did it again on the first playoff hole. His consolation prize? A spot in this week’s Open field, which might not be as much consolation as he’ll need.
17. I love this James Hahn tweet from Friday evening: “Flying from SFO to Manchester, UK as 1st alternate for the Open Championship. Worth the chance to compete in my favorite major of the year!” We’d all like to believe that professional golfers would do anything to compete in a major. Hahn is proving it.
18. There are no mulligans in professional golf, but maybe they should still offer ’em in the interview room. Here was Daniel Berger last week, explaining his rationale for playing the John Deere Classic before The Open as opposed to traveling overseas early: “My rookie year, I got into the British Open and I went to Scotland and played the Scottish Open, and that was just too much time in England.”