6 wild cards play strong hands for Open
By DAN O’NEILL  | July 11, 2019
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Sorry that we’re only into the second week of July, but this is it: the last major championship of the year. Sure, there will be FedEx Cup playoffs, a FedEx Cup winner and a big check still to pass hands.

But there won’t be anything as meaningful. With the PGA having been conducted in May and with nothing to look forward to next month, “Glory’s Last Shot” for 2019 is next week’s British Open in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. No, really, ’tis.

The British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years. Think about that. Elvis hadn’t made a demo yet. Passenger jets didn’t exist. Color TV still was two years away in 1951 when the Open last came to the Emerald Isle. So, this final major-championship curtain will be unique, full of color and charm, as only the Irish can provide.

What’s more, the competition has no template. None of the competitors at Royal Portrush was alive in ’51. Mention “The Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” and they think you’re talking Christmas movies. The favorites will be the usual suspects, to be sure, the names you heard before the last major. And to be perfectly clear: Brooks Koepka is the prohibitive pick to win every major, pending further notification.

© GOLFFILE/KEN MURRAY
Ireland’s Shane Lowry should have plenty of support lined up among the Emerald Isle faithful next week when Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland hosts the British Open.

But the clean slate at Royal Portrush appears to make this anyone’s Claret Jug, an equal-opportunity championship, a wild-card paradise. With that in mind, here are a half-dozen less-celebrated contestants to consider:

Shane Lowry: The 32-year-old Irishman showed that he might be close to winning a major at the PGA, where his 3-under weekend aggregate was the low score for the final two rounds and he finished T-8. Lowry said afterward, “I don’t feel out of my comfort zone playing these tournaments anymore.” You never know about the weather, but he should feel especially comfortable near his homeland.

Matthew Wolff: If you saw his insane eagle on the 72nd hole to win last week’s 3M Open, you now believe the 20-year-old Oklahoma State product has the guts and game to do anything. Wolff has an outside-in swing that only Jim Furyk could love, hits it miles and seems impervious to pressure. Way back when he was an amateur – a few weeks ago – he captured the NCAA individual title. It seems unlikely that he could add a major in 2019, but refer back to the opening sentence of this skinny.

Graeme McDowell: An additional disclaimer could be issued here … something about anyone Irish. Certainly, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy is a popular selection. He has won four majors, after all, and he shot the competitive course record (61) at Royal Portrush when he was 16. But the 39-year-old McDowell is a Portrush native and knows the course like he knows the Giant’s Causeway. McDowell hasn’t won a major since the 2010 U.S. Open, but he has resurfaced this year, with a victory at the Corales Puntacana, a T-29 at the PGA and a T-16 at the U.S. Open. He made a spectacular 29-foot putt on the final hole at the Canadian Open just to get into this rodeo. This is his dream, his house and his crowd.

Patrick Cantlay: OK, so this isn’t completely “under the radar.” Cantlay won the Memorial last month, which certainly puts him on the grid. But the 27-year-old is looking for his first major title, and this could be the ticket. Cantlay tied for 12th last year wins his first British Open. Keep in mind that 11 of the past 12 winners of this championship had finished T-15 or better in it previously, so he qualifies. Cantlay also is first on the PGA Tour in scoring average (69.095) and fourth in Shots Gained Tee to Green (1.762). Lots to like here.


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Rafael Cabrera-Bello: With his recent Irish Open victory, Jon Rahm will be among the sexy choices at Royal Portrush, but another Spaniard could surprise. The 35-year old Cabrera-Bello tied for third at the BMW International in late June, then tied for fourth at the recent Irish Open, where he drop-kicked the lead with a clumsy back nine. C-B has some British chops. He won the 2017 Scottish Open, and he was T4 at the 2017 British Open with weekend rounds of 67-68. He runs hot and cold, sometimes in the same round, but if he’s feeling it …

Ian Poulter: You might substitute Matt Kuchar here, but that would be a trendier name. The 43-year-old Poulter, likewise, fits the profile. The British Open is the oldest of the championships, and it tends to cater to an older crowd. Last year’s winner, Francesco Molinari, was 35. And since 2007 only three British Open winners – McIlroy (25), Louis Oosthuizen (27) and Jordan Spieth (23) – have been younger. When he won in 2011, a 42-year-old Darren Clarke was in a similar place. But by comparison, Poulter actually has been more relevant this year, with five top-10s worldwide and a T-12 at the Masters. Stranger things have happened – less colorful, perhaps – but stranger.

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD

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