For the first time in his career, at this Open, Spain’s Jon Rahm will tee off at a major championship on Thursday morning without the burden of having never won one.
After winning his first at last month’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Rahm will attempt to become only the seventh player — and just the second in nearly four decades — to win the U.S. Open and The Open in the same year at Royal St. George’s.
“Yeah, I’m usually pretty good in golf history,” Rahm said this week of the rare feat. “I know Tiger has done it. Might have been maybe Ben Hogan has done it, too, and not many more. I’m assuming Jack. Jack is always in all of those lists. It would be pretty incredible to win both Opens in one year. It would be amazing.”
Actually, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer never did it.
Tiger Woods was the last player to do it, in 2000, and Tom Watson before that in 1982. The others — Bobby Jones (1926 and 1930), Gene Sarazen (1932), Ben Hogan (1953) and Lee Trevino (1971) — occurred at least a half-century ago.
“At least I did have a sense of relief after winning the first major,” Rahm said. “I felt like for the better part of five years, all I heard is major, major, major just because I was playing good golf, as if it was easy to win a major championship.”
Jump to a tier:
Tier I: Guys who can win | Tier II: If everything goes right | Tier III: Miracles happen | Tier IV: Happy to make the cut | Tier V: The qualifiers | Tier VI: The amateurs
Tier I: The guys who can win
Will Rory McIlroy end his major drought at The Open? Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
Here are the legitimate contenders to win the The Open. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds on Royal St. George’s difficult setup.
The Spaniard will go for back-to-back major championship wins after claiming his first at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. His best finish at The Open was a tie for 11th at Royal Portrush in 2019. He would become only the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and The Open in the same year.
The four-time major winner used to seem unflappable on Sundays, but not lately. Since winning his last major title at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he nearly squandered a 7-shot lead with a final-round 74, he has matched that score over the final 18 holes in three of the six majors in which he made the cut.
The newly married Schauffele finishing in the top 10 of a major is becoming as predictable as Koepka rolling his eyes at you-know-who. He tied for seventh at Torrey Pines, his ninth top-10 in 17 major starts. He is now the highest-ranked player in the world without a major championship win.
DJ returns to the scene of one of his most forgettable moments in a major championship. In the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s, he trimmed Darren Clarke’s lead to two shots with five holes to play. Then he knocked his second shot on No. 14 out of bounds. Clarke won by three strokes.
Spieth certainly had his struggles over the previous few years, but not at the The Open. He won at Royal Birkdale in 2017 and his 2.5 strokes gained average is tied with McIlroy and Henrik Stenson for best at The Open since 2015.
Reed was 10th at Royal Portrush, his lone top-10 in six Open starts. He shook things up before the U.S. Open, moving longtime instructor Kevin Kirk back to a full-time role, with David Leadbetter serving as a consultant.
The South African finished runner-up in six majors since winning the 2010 Open at St. Andrews, including a solo second at Torrey Pines and tie for second behind Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Only seven players have finished runner-up in a major more times than Oosthuizen — Jack Nicklaus (19), Mickelson (11), Arnold Palmer (10), Tom Watson (eight), Sam Snead (eight), Greg Norman (eight) and J.H. Taylor (seven).
McIlroy hasn’t won a major championship in seven years; he won two consecutive in 2014 at The Open at Royal Liverpool, where he beat Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia by two shots, and the PGA Championship at Valhalla. He was in contention on Sunday at Torrey Pines, a sign that his work with swing coach Pete Cowen is paying off.
He has been baffled by The Open in three career starts, missing two cuts and tying for 51st at Carnoustie in 2018. His grip-it-and-rip-it strategy has never been tested on a links course. Brian Ziegler, an instructor at Dallas National, will be on DeChambeau’s bag after he parted ways with longtime caddie Tim Tucker before the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
JT’s best finish at The Open was a tie for 11th at Royal Portrush two years ago. His form hasn’t been great all summer; he didn’t have a top-10 finish in seven Tour starts since winning the Players Championship in March.
The 24-year-old with four PGA Tour wins will be making his first Open start. Last week’s appearance at the Scottish Open was his first event on European soil.
Fleetwood has made it clear that he wants to win The Open more than any other tournament in the world. He was solo second at Royal Portrush two years ago, finishing six shots behind Shane Lowry.
Hovland flew to Europe after the U.S. Open, won the BMW International Open in Munich (the first victory by a Norwegian on the European Tour) and then played a round in front of a couple hundred onlookers in his native Norway after someone posted a screenshot of his tee time on social media. It’s his first start at The Open.
Cantlay tied for 15th in the U.S. Open and tied for 23rd in the PGA Championship. His best finish at The Open was a tie for 12th at Carnoustie in 2018.
Hatton missed the cut in five of eight Open starts, but tied for sixth at Royal Portrush and tied for fifth at Royal Troon in 2016. He is among a handful of players trying to become England’s first Open winner since Nick Faldo in 1992, and the first Englishman to win on English soil since Tony Jacklin at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1969.
The 25-year-old Texan will be making his Open debut. He tied for 19th in his first start at the Masters and tied for fourth in his debut at the PGA Championship.
The 43-year-old Englishman hasn’t been much of a factor at The Open since finishing in a tie for third at St. Andrews in 2010. He tied for 11th at Royal Birkdale four years ago.
He missed the cut in the U.S. Open, but finished in the top 10 in nine of his previous 14 starts in majors. Finau was solo third at Royal Portrush — eight shots back of Lowry — his second straight top-10 at The Open.
The Irishman has had the Claret Jug for nearly two years — 724 days to be exact — since his dominant victory at Royal Portrush. He’ll try to become the first back-to-back Open winner since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008.
Ancer missed the cut in his first two Open starts, but he has steadily improved in majors. He’s accurate off the tee and does a good job of avoiding bogeys, which will come in handy on Royal St. George’s difficult setup.
Another Englishman with aspirations of winning a Claret Jug at home, Rose finished in the top 25 in nine of his previous 18 Open starts. He missed the cut at Royal St. George’s in 2003 and tied for 44th there in 2011.
Berger made the cut in one of his previous three Open starts — he tied for 27th at Royal Birkdale in 2017 — but his elite iron play and scrambling ability might give him a chance this week.
Leishman, who makes his home in Virginia Beach, will represent Australia in the Olympics. He was runner-up to Zach Johnson at the 2015 Open Championship.
Simpson had made the cut in 16 consecutive starts in majors before failing to do so at the U.S. Open last month. He tied for 16th at the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s.
The Australian has made the cut in 15 of 20 Open starts, including a solo second at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012 and a tie for third at Muirfield in 2013.
The Englishman had quite the weekend, making it to a playoff for the Scottish Open — he didn’t win — and then flying to London to watch England play Italy in the UEFA Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium. The 26-year-old has just one top-10 finish in 23 starts in majors as a pro.
The South African tied for sixth in the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale, when he became the first player to shoot 62 in a round at any major. At the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, he led the field in strokes gained tee to green and tied for seventh.
Tier II: If everything goes right
Phil Mickelson won a major already this year. Is there any chance of one more? Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Here are the sleeper candidates to lift the Claret Jug on Sunday. The list includes former winners, rising stars and other players whose games have been works in progress so far this season. Will it all come together this week?
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The Englishman was world No. 1 for 22 combined weeks about a decade ago, and he has a pretty strong track record in majors with 19 top-10s. But unless Westwood wins the Claret Jug this week, he’ll set a dubious record with 88 starts in majors without a victory, the most in golf history.
The Australian finished tied for 20th at Royal Portrush two years ago, his best finish in three Open starts.
The former Georgia star has made the cut in every one of his starts in a major since 2015, including a solo fourth and solo third in the past two U.S. Opens.
Kokrak has two PGA Tour wins this season, but his performance in majors hasn’t been great with just one finish inside the top 49 in his past six starts.
Few players have been better than Harman this season; he has made the cut in 20 of 23 starts, with five top-10s and 11 top-25s.
The 2013 Open at Muirfield winner also finished solo second at Royal Troon three years later.
The Scotsman was the 2019 European Tour Rookie of the Year and tied for sixth at the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush. He grew up playing links courses, but needs to improve his iron play.
Henley had at least a share of the lead in the first three rounds at the U.S. Open, before a closing 5-over 76 dropped him into a tie for 13th.
The 2018 Open winner seemed to fall off the map after his final-round collapse at the 2019 Masters, but the Italian has played better this season, including a tie for 13th at the U.S. Open.
The Chilean will make his second Open start after missing the cut at Royal Portrush.
The former LSU star will make his Open debut about a week before his 25th birthday.
The Canadian is a ball-striking machine, ranking in the top 10 on Tour in shots gained off the tee and shots gained approach to the green.
Horschel, the 25th-ranked player in the world, has struggled on links courses, missing the cut in five of his previous six Open starts.
He rebounded from a forgettable stretch of play with back-to-back top-10s, a tie for fifth at the Travelers Championship and tie for eighth at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The Englishman was runner-up to Harrington at Royal Birkdale in 2008; he missed the cut at Royal St. George’s in 2011 and was 46th in 2003.
The 41-year-old Spaniard has 10 top-10s in 18 Open starts, including a solo second at Carnoustie in 2007 and tie for second at Royal Liverpool in 2014.
The 2019 U.S. Open champion has just one top-25 in his previous eight Open starts.
The ball-striking sensation cooled off considerably since a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship in May, tying for 59th at the Charles Schwab Challenge, missing the cut at the U.S. Open and finishing 77th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Five years after his Open win at Royal Troon, Stenson’s form hasn’t been great lately, missing the cut in 10 of 17 starts on tour. But the Swede has a great track record in The Open, which also includes a solo second at Muirfield in 2013 and a pair of ties for third.
In this edition of America’s Caddie, Michael Collins visits Torrey Pines Golf Course in Southern California to tee up the 2021 U.S. Open. Stream now on ESPN+
The Italian was runner-up three times on the European Tour this season and tied for fourth at the U.S. Open in his major championship debut.
His form (and back) wasn’t great before posting back-to-back top-15s at the Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic. He has one top-10 in nine Open starts.
Higgo, from South Africa, won twice in Europe and again in his second PGA Tour start at the Palmetto Championship.
The South African missed the cut in his only previous Open start at Royal Portrush.
Perez was born in France, attended the University of New Mexico and now lives in Dundee, Scotland. He won the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Tier III: Hey, miracles happen
Rickie Fowler has shown signs of improvement. But is it enough to actually win The Open? Matthew Lewis/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
They are the long shots. This tier includes an aging former champion, players still searching for their form and some first-timers.
Byeong Hun An
He finally won in his 478th start on the European Tour and then became the oldest player, at age 48, to lead the U.S. Open at the halfway point.
There are signs that he is finally turning things around — a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship and tie for 11th at the Memorial.
The two-time Open champion hasn’t made the cut in his last three starts — but he tied for fourth at the PGA Championship.
He tied for 17th at both the Players Championship and PGA Championship. He made the cut in each of his previous four Open starts.
He made the cut in four of his previous five Open starts, including three ties for 30th.
Erik van Rooyen
Harold Varner III
Varner will make his second Open start after he was added to the field on Sunday. He took the place of Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, who was forced to withdraw because of a recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
Tier IV: Happy to make the cut
The last time The Open was here, Darren Clarke walked off with the Claret Jug. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens on the Kent coastline.
The 38-year-old South African last played in The Open at Turnberry in 2009.
The two-time Open champion finished in a tie for 32nd at Royal Portrush at the age of 49.
The fifth time was the charm for the 26-year-old Englishman, who birdied the last three holes to win a 36-hole final qualifier, his fifth attempt at making The Open field.
Born in South Korea and raised in Hawaii, Kim qualified for the Open by winning the 2019 Japan Open.
Richard T Lee
Min Woo Lee
Nagano, 33, was ranked 1,010th in the world when he finished solo second in May’s Mizuno Open to qualify for the Open Championship.
At 6-foot-9, Thomson was the tallest player in European Tour history when he became a member in 2017.
Daniel Van Tonder
Tier V: Amateurs
Can Cole Hammer get his hands on the silver medal? Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Here are the amateur players who will attempt to do what stars such as McIlroy, Rose, Tiger Woods and so many others did at The Open before turning pro — winning a silver medal as the low amateur.
Bring, from Denmark, won the European Amateur Championship in France in June. The former University of Texas star’s score of 20-under 264 was one shy of the tournament record set by Carl Pettersson in 2000.
Hammer, who will return for his senior season at Texas, is ranked the No. 8 amateur in the world. He missed the cut in two U.S. Open starts.
The 23-year-old Englishman won the British Amateur, after trailing by 8 after 17 holes of the 36-hole match. As a result, he qualified for the Open Championship and next year’s Masters and U.S. Open.