Crazy story lines surround this week’s playing of the 145th Open Championship as the top four golfers in the world have all withdrawn from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

It makes sense to an extent seeing as there are true health concerns with the Zika virus to go along with golf’s jam packed close to the season. What made headlines ahead of Thursday’s start to the Open Championship, however, was Rory McIlroy’s  Tuesday afternoon comments to the media following his decision to withdraw.

The Northern Irishman said that he would “watch the Olympics, but probably not golf.” He further claimed that he’d prefer to see “track and field, swimming and diving… you know the ones that matter,” causing a tremendous outcry in the golfing community, especially given that it was just reintroduced to the Summer Olympics. With these uncharacteristically outlandish comments by the world’s No. 3 golfer, he has lost some serious support and has caused himself unwanted attention ahead of golf’s third major. While this news is a tremendous blow to the game of golf, let’s instead focus on this week’s prestigious Open Championship, where come Sunday the 145th winner will be hoisting the Claret Jug.

Wisconsinites

Wisconsin will be represented at Royal Troon by 22-year-old Jordan NiebruEditgge, as well as long-time Tour veteran Steve Stricker.

Jordan Niebrugge – Niebrugge made headlines at St. Andrews last year, scoring the lowest total by an amateur in Open Championship history with rounds of 67-73-67-70, which was good for an impressive sixth place finish. The Mequon native ultimately outlasted Ireland’s Paul Dunne for low amateur and was awarded the Silver Medal. This year,  however, Niebrugge will compete as a pro after releasing his status as an amateur following the conclusion of his senior season at Oklahoma State. He made his pro-debut a few weeks back at Congressional, but missed the cut by a couple strokes. Don’t count him out though because if all goes right, we could be in store for some more Mequon magic.

Steve Stricker – Madison’s hometown hero will be playing in his fourteenth Open Championship this week, and he comes into Royal Troon on a bit of a hot streak. The former world No. 2 finished T21 down the road at the Scottish Open, and qualified for golf’s third major via a runner-up finish at last month’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. While he doesn’t hit the ball as far as used to, Stricker is one of the most accurate drivers on Tour,  which should be a tremendous advantage on a course like Royal Troon where the fescue is punishing.

The Course

Royal Troon is a par-71 course that extends 7,190 yards. This week’s playing will be the ninth time the fescue ridden course has hosted golf’s third major, and the last time it played host to the event was in 2004 when Todd Hamilton outlasted Ernie Els in a playoff. Other notable high finishes during the 2004 Open Championship include: Phil Mickelson 3, Lee Westwood 4, Tiger Woods 9, Vijay Singh T20. All of these guys are tremendous off the tee and this week’s winner will have to be just as accurate with the driver.

What to Watch For

Dustin Johnson could win his third straight event and the number one ranking in the OWGR. His prior two victories came at the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

For seasoned veterans such as Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, this Open Championship could be their last chance to claim their maiden majors.

Rising star John Rahm will be competing in his first Open Championship and looks to be the next Spanish golfing sensation.


Photo courtesy of jsonline.com.