Royal Portrush an outstanding venue for The Open, says Ewen Murray
Last Updated: 16/07/19 3:07pm
As The Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years, Ewen Murray believes the course will prove to be one of the best on the Open rota...
When I look at the courses on the current Open rota, they are all fantastic venues worthy of hosting such a big event. But being here at Portrush this week, I think it has taken The Open to a new level.
I loved Carnoustie last year, and Royal Birkdale the year before, but this is another stage up.
What makes it so special? Probably 68 years of not being here! The changes to the course in recent years are a job well done, and the two new holes, seven and eight, look like they have been there since the original course first opened. I was here with Darren Clarke watching the new holes being built, and they just fit in perfectly.
They have also done a great job with 17 and 18, which needed to be changed for The Open. The closing stretch, starting with the toughest of the par-threes at the 16th, looks like being one of the best.
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The 16th is called "Calamity" for good reason, there are all sorts of things that could happen there, depending on the wind. The 17th is an old-school blind hole, and the 18th could prove to be a better finishing hole than Muirfield. The final hole at Portrush, I can only describe as majestic.
I went round the course earlier, and there is not a weak hole out here. They are all very good, and when you package the whole lot together, you have a venue that could leave us all wondering why it took 68 years to come back.
We've seen a few champions from the 40-plus age range in recent years, the likes of Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Henrik Stenson, and I'd be surprised to see a youngster win this week - although these kids are quite good.
It's so important to have the patience and the course-management you need to get your name on that Claret Jug. Brooks Koepka has been the "major man" over the last couple of years, and he'll be drawing on the experience and course knowledge of his caddie, Ricky Elliott.
Francesco Molinari proved beyond any doubt last year that he has the know-how to navigate a links course, and I wouldn't bet against him mounting a successful defence this week.
Out of the four majors this year, the average age of the field for The Open is the highest at over 33. So you would think we'll see experience and maturity triumph over the young talent, mainly because it's such an old, traditional and natural golf course.
Like many an Open, much will depend on the weather and the strength and direction of the wind in particular. I'm predicting a mature winner this week, but there are 156 players in the field and they're all pretty good.
Whatever transpires from Thursday to Sunday, The 148th Open is going to be an enthralling spectacle, played on an outstanding golf course in front of thousands of appreciative fans.
Local hero Clarke has the honour of hitting the opening blow at 6:35am on Thursday, and that will be an emotional experience for sure.
Last week, he sent me a message giving his opinion of Royal Portrush, and he said: "It is 'off the charts' good." I think he'll be proved right this week.