Dan Box
By Dan Box

If Rory McIlroy was hoping to come in under the radar this week at Royal Liverpool, the site of his Open Championship victory back in 2014, then hitting one of the best approach shots of the year to make birdie on the final hole and win the Scottish Open was probably not the way to do it.

Despite not winning a major championship for nine years the Northern Irishman finds himself heading back to Hoylake as the betting favourite, raising expectations once again that this could finally be the time that he breaks the drought.

Whilst it may feel as if the summer has yet to properly arrive in the UK, we have already reached the final major of the men's season and with nine months to wait until the next one following the conclusion of this tournament, this is already the players' last chance to write their name into the history books.

Last Year

Last year Cam Smith won his first major title at the 150th Open at St Andrews, breaking the hearts of Rory McIlroy fans with a stunning final round of 64, including five birdies in a row on the back nine and a memorable up and down on the iconic Road Hole.

McIlroy had started the final round tied for the lead with Viktor Hovland, but both were overtaken by Smith and the fast-finishing Cam Young, who fired a 65 to finish one stroke behind in second place.

Smith's final score of 20 under par tied the record for the lowest score in a major championship, whilst Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau all closed with sub-70 final rounds to finish within the Top 10.

The Course

Royal Liverpool, known to most golfers as Hoylake (after the town where it is situated), plays host this week. Situated on the Wirral just a hop from Liverpool city centre, the course will stage The Open for the thirteenth time in its history this week, and the list of winners is pretty impressive - Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have all won the Claret Jug here.

Hoylake last played host back in 2014 when Rory McIlroy won the third of his four major championships, but the layout has changed a little since then.

The course is now a 7,313 yard Par 71, from a Par 72, and the most notable change is the addition of a brand new Par 3 17th, as well as the 10th hole now playing as a 500 yard Par 4 rather than a 530 yard Par 5.

The 17th and 18th holes for the members actually become the 1st and 2nd during The Open, with the 3rd hole usually playing as the opener for members.

As with most links courses, so much of the difference in potential scoring depends on the conditions during the week - in 2006 for example, Tiger Woods famously won the Claret Jug despite using his driver just once all week.

The conditions are not expected to be quite as firm and fast as they have in the last couple of editions though, with mild temperatures and showers forecast.

The Field

156 golfers are set to tee it up at Hoylake this year, with a number of the starters coming through Open Qualifying stages to book their place, including Alex Fitzpatrick (younger brother of Matt) and Matthew Jordan, who is a member of Royal Liverpool and qualified at West Lancashire.

McIlroy, Rahm and Scheffler headline the field this week, whilst last year's winner Cam Smith and reigning PGA Champion Brooks Koepka lead the charge for LIV Golf.

Many fans will fancy the resurgent Rickie Fowler, who recently won for the first time in over four years, or Norwegian Viktor Hovland who has performed well in the majors so far this year and ran Koepka close at the PGA.

This week also represents a great opportunity for golfers to impress their Ryder Cup Captains, or even play their way on to the team automatically, with a strong finish. The likes of the Hojgaard twins, Bob MacIntyre, Adrian Meronk, Victor Perez and Sepp Straka are all in with a chance of booking their spot for Marco Simone, and who's to say that 2021 Captain Padraig Harrington couldn't tee it up again?!

Betting Tips...

Scottie Scheffler @ 8/1

Hasn't finished outside the Top 12 since October, which is pretty absurd. He's in the middle of compiling one of the greatest tee to green seasons since records began, but has only two wins to show for it. The real issue that's been letting him down is the putting, but if he can get hot this week, he's giving himself enough chances to win every event he starts. A T4 finish last week in Scotland should have served as the perfect links golf prep.

Tommy Fleetwood @ 25/1

Could this be Tommy's time? 25/1 isn't the most generous of prices but Fleetwood is in fantastic form, plays links golf very well and this feels like a home event for Fleetwood, who comes from Southport just down the road. At 32 he has the experience in these big events now, and finished T5 at the US Open and T6 last week in Scotland. He also finished in the top five at St Andrews last year.

Bryson DeChambeau @ 66/1

The American is pretty hard to predict these days but if conditions are a little softer than expected, his huge length off the tee could be a huge advantage over the rest of the field if golfers are forced to get the driver out more often. After struggling for form throughout 2022 he popped up to finish T8 at this event last year, and played well for a T4 at the PGA Championship before another solid showing at the US Open. Is he starting to show glimpses of the form that made him a major champion?


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