Ever since his success at the Scottish Open, Rory McIlroy has been the clear favorite for this year’s Open Championship in Liverpool. We take a look at what speaks for him and who could challenge him for the title.
A Rory McIlroy in top form at the Open Championship
At the beginning of the year, there seemed to be nothing that the Northern Irishman couldn’t win. But then the outside pressure mounted, it was as much about LIV and the PGA Tour as it was about sporting success, and McIlroy seemed to have reached his limit. The results failed to materialize, and time out was necessary, even from the Elevated events, which he had promised to participate in when they were first conceived. But with June 6 and the negotiated merger between the PGA and PIF, the pressure is also falling off. What happens at tour level is no longer his business, McIlroy thinks to himself, and plays as freely as he did at the beginning of the year. A second place at the US Open in June was the first bright spot, then the links victory last week. The signs are all pointing to McIlroy.
The fact that he is the last Champion Golfer of the Year to be named at Royal Liverpool further helps his odds. And let’s not forget the duel against Cam Smith at the 2022 Open Championship. McIlroy’s colleagues also know that the 34-year-old is a force to be reckoned with this week. Last year’s triumphant Cam Smith, for example, said. “There are a lot of guys who, if the week goes well, can be up there on Sunday. I’m sure Rory is one of them.” For Jon Rahm, McIlroy is also the main favorite. “If I had to pick one player, it would be Rory,” he said in an interview with Mercedes Benz. Matt Fitzpatrick even expresses a tiny bit of jealousy at the four-time major winner’s outstanding form. “I think everyone would like to play golf the way Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler are doing right now. But that’s pretty rare for the rest of us.”
The unbeatable Scottie Scheffler
If there is anyone who can outperform Rory McIlroy in terms of form, it is Scottie Scheffer. You’ll look in vain for a missed cut this year and all season for the world No. 1. His worst finish in 2023 is a split 12th.If there isn’t at least a top 10 for him this week, it almost has to be a disappointment. In his last ten major appearances, Scheffer missed the cut only once and finished outside the top 10 only once, but that was at the 2022 British Open. At St. Andrews, the currently unbeatable Scheffler apparently found his master. But he showed that he has no problems with links golf per se with a shared third place at the Scottish Open last week.
The defending champion Cameron Smith
Not to be forgotten, of course, is the defending champion. When Cameron Smith handed the Claret Jug back to Martin Slumbers of the R&A, he reluctantly let the trophy go. “I’ll just win it again,” he jousted. Even though Smith’s Ripper GC is only in the lower midfield of the LIV Golf League, things look very different for the captain. He ranks second in the season standings behind only Talor Gooch after his win in London. In addition, he boasts four top 10 results, an eleventh place finish and a twelfth place finish. His major record this year is not without its problems either. Although T34 at the Masters, where he particularly shone in previous years, the trend developed positively: T9 at the PGA Championship, 4th place at the US Open, what will he achieve at the Royal Liverpool?
The fiery Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm also looked unstoppable at the beginning of the year. Since the spring and his Masters win, however, he’s cooled off a bit. More breaks, results good enough to keep him in the top 3 in the world, but not to challenge Scheffler for the top spot. He is well aware of that himself, he explained before the tournament. “Obviously Rory and Scotty are more the favorites because they’ve been playing better lately, but I’m glad people still think I have a chance.” At the same time, he said, his expectations of himself are probably higher than what people on the outside think of him. “Whether people think you’re going to win or not, I’m still coming here to win.” He’s already won one major this year, and a second would definitely be in the cards.
But, as Jon Rahm also says, “This is golf, all 150 of us have a chance.” Figures like Rickie Fowler, with chances to win the US Open and end his winless streak are also aiming for the title, as is Brooks Koepka, who has major title number 6 in his sights, but has had very inconsistent results at the Open Championship so far. With Tommy Fleetwood, who finished T4 behind Rory McIlroy last year and T6 last week, standing just as high with the bookmakers as world No. 5 Viktor Hovland, with whom Fleetwood shared fourth place in 2022. But in the end, there can only be one Champion Golfer of the Year 2023.