The Open Championship 2016: Full Guide to This Year's Tournament at Royal Troon
If it feels like The Open is here a bit soon this year, you're right.
The European-based leg of the golfing Grand Slam was moved up a week in 2016 to allow players time to prepare for next month's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
It's been 12 years since the Royal Troon Golf Club—about 35 miles southwest of Glasgow, Scotland—hosted the Open Championship, which unheralded American Todd Hamilton won in 2004.
Now 50, Hamilton hasn't managed better than a tie for 15th in any major since. In fact, he hasn't won another tournament and is now on the Champions Tour after losing his PGA Tour exempt status in 2010 and coming up dry on the Web.com Tour in 2014 and 2015.
"For some reason I had an eerie calmness that week," Hamilton told Golf.com's Cameron Morfit about his unlikely triumph. "Especially as that last round got toward the end. I just felt that everything was going to work out in my favor. I’d felt that before and it had worked out."
Hamilton's 12-year-old Cinderella story aside, there are loads of items to consider between now and the first tee-off on Thursday.
So while you're searching for your passport, packing your rain gear and prepping your taste buds for fish and chips, we've assembled a one-stop shop for info on the course, viewing information, pre-tournament storylines and contenders, dark horses and favorites.
About Royal Troon
The course at Royal Troon Golf Club is designed in the out-and-back setup of the Old Course at St. Andrews.
The first and last few holes provide comfort to players at the start and end of rounds, but the middle sections include ups, downs and arounds over links as striking as any among the collection of The Open host venues.
As with any Open course, the blustery weather accentuates the topographical characteristics. If the wind turns against players in the back halves of rounds, it'll be a rough homestretch.
This will be the ninth time Royal Troon has hosted the Open. American Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff to win its last incarnation in 2004. Seven years earlier, Justin Leonard hoisted the Claret Jug after a three-stroke win over Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik.
Where to Watch
Here is the television schedule for daily coverage on Golf Channel and NBC (all times Eastern), as well as the live-streaming schedule for GolfChannel.com.
Thursday, July 14
TV: 1:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Golf Channel
Streaming (featured groups, holes): 1:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., GolfChannel.com
Friday, July 15
TV: 1:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Golf Channel
Streaming (featured groups, holes): 1:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., GolfChannel.com
Saturday, July 16
TV: 4 to 7 a.m., Golf Channel; 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., NBC
Streaming (featured groups, holes): 4 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., GolfChannel.com
Sunday, July 17
TV: 4 to 7 a.m., Golf Channel; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., NBC
Streaming (featured groups, holes): 4 a.m. to 2 p.m., GolfChannel.com
The Top Groupings
Tee times were announced Monday for Rounds 1 and 2 at Royal Troon.
There are some notable groupings for Thursday and Friday. Here are just a few (all tee times are Eastern).
4:25 a.m. Thursday/9:26 a.m. Friday: Danny Willett, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
The Masters champion, Englishman Danny Willett, will play alongside the world's No. 1 player in Jason Day and the snappily dressed Rickie Fowler, who's been a top-five finisher in all four Grand Slam tournaments—including a tie for second at The Open two years ago.
8:26 a.m. Thursday/3:25 a.m. Friday: Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els
Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are both 46 years old, but they're each also recent Open champions, having won in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Lee Westwood is only 43, but he's managed to finish in the top three at all four majors, including second to Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews in 2010.
9:04 a.m. Thursday/4:03 a.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Russell Knox
Recent U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson might be the hottest player in the world right now. Martin Kaymer has skidded from 26th to 52nd in the world this year, but he does have two major trophies on his shelf, while Russell Knox has climbed from 30th to 26th and aims to better last year's missed cut at St. Andrews.
9:15 a.m. Thursday/4:14 a.m. Friday: Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson
This group features defending Open champion Zach Johnson aiming for a first repeat title since Padraig Harrington won in 2007 and 2008, which came on the heels of Tiger Woods going back to back in 2005 and 2006. Oh, and Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson are pretty good—eighth and sixth in the world, respectively—too.
Will another unlikely winner emerge?
Upon further review, maybe The Open isn't a haven for never-weres after all. You have to go back to 2011 to find a champion, Darren Clarke, who hadn't bagged another major before winning The Open.
Nevertheless, given the presence of Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis and Paul Lawrie on the tournament's winners list since 1999, the chances of a guy emerging from nowhere still seem as great this year in Scotland as they do anywhere else.
The roster is full of European names familiar only to the most hardcore golf fans, and the pot bunkers and windswept fairways tend to bring the Jason Days and Jordan Spieths of the world a lot closer to the rest of the pack than major courses on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
Can Dustin Johnson, fresh off his U.S. Open win, keep the momentum and grab another major?
No one's suggesting he'll approach the major hauls of Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods.
But now that Dustin Johnson has the mental Grand Slam monkey off his back, he may be capable of making up for all the near-miss disasters he's had over the past several years.
Johnson spit in the eye of a career's worth of spotlight failure last month at Oakmont, and he's already proved he can handle the track in the United Kingdom, having tied for second with Phil Mickelson, three shots behind Clarke, at Royal St. George's in 2011.
Will the course and weather conditions dominate headlines?
A quick check of Weather.com indicates this answer may be yes.
The highest temperature over the four scheduled days of play is just 67 degrees, while the chances of precipitation range from 10 to 90 percent from Thursday to Sunday as well.
Add that chilly drizzle to wind speeds mostly projected to stay in the double digits for the tournament's entire run and it wouldn't be surprising for delays, umbrellas and rain jackets to be a signature element.
The Dark Horses
A three-time winner on the European Tour in 2015, Andy Sullivan ended the year at No. 36 in the official world rankings and was 40th at the start of July. He's made the cut in just two of the five majors he's played in his career—tied for 30th at The Open last season and tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open last month.
But a tie for fifth at the French Open (two strokes behind Rory McIlroy) and a tie for sixth at the Scottish Open in his last two outings indicate he may have his game in shape for a good week.
If you're looking to pluck a guy from the "best players to not win a major" list, here's a good one.
Henrik Stenson turned 40 in April, has been as high as No. 2 in the world rankings in his career and was No. 6 in the world to start this month. He won the BMW International Open in late June over a field that included Sergio Garcia—seven shots behind—and had a share of the lead before finishing second at The Open in 2013, three shots behind Phil Mickelson.
With seven top-10 finishes between the PGA Tour and European Tour this season, the streaky Swede's Claret Jug time has come.
If success on a big stage is a prerequisite this week, Danny Willett has it in the bag.
He was a shot behind Dustin Johnson at the 2015 Open before winding up four shots off the final lead, but he bounced back to prominence this spring with a win at the Masters.
That said, he hasn't exactly been red hot since, having racked up three missed cuts and just one top-five finish in six events. He'll be relying on major-championship muscle memory more than momentum.
If Dustin Johnson's career were a Twitter topic, it'd be trending up. Way up.
And if finally getting a major after multiple heartbreaks means a guy may quickly rattle off a few more, this week could serve as Round 2 in a series of Johnson/Paulina Gretzky embraces off the 18th green.
Two weeks after the U.S. Open, he went to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and picked up another trophy, so he'll enter The Open as both the world's hottest player and its second-ranked one, trailing only Jason Day. Previous ties for second and ninth at the Open Championship would be a nice setup for a win.
Adam Scott's memories of The Open haven't been great when it comes to winning.
In 2012, he had a four-shot lead with four holes left but still managed to finish second. He has four other top-10 finishes in the event, too, including a tie for 10th last year at St. Andrews.
Two straight PGA Tour wins in February and March made it appear as though a banner 2016 was in the works for the Australian, but his major performances since—tie for 42nd at the Masters, tie for 18th at the U.S. Open—leave more to be desired. A strong four days in Scotland, though, would change the narrative.
Three wins in 2015 and one in January made Rickie Fowler look like another player ready to scale significant heights by this time in 2016.
Instead, he's missed cuts at both majors and hasn't found himself better than a tie for 10th since May.
But like several others, he's had strong finishes in the United Kingdom—as recently as 2014's tie for second behind Rory McIlroy, in which Fowler shot all four rounds in the 60s.
Will the real Justin Rose—The Open version—please stand up?
He burst on to the UK scene with a tie for fourth as a teenager in 1998, then had 12 consecutive appearances without a top-10 Open finish (including five missed cuts) before coming back last year to wind up tied for sixth, four shots off a playoff.
He spent a week prior to the 2016 tournament scouting out the Royal Troon course and learning its idiosyncrasies.
"I was hitting some three irons into some of the par fours and (the next day) I hit wedges," he told Sky Sports, "so I am learning the course in all weather conditions which is what The Open is all about."
Go figure. Sergio Garcia has 21 top-10 finishes at major championships, but no trophies.
Meanwhile, the man who won the last time The Open was at Troon—Todd Hamilton—never saw the top 10 again but still has a Claret Jug.
Garcia, though, surely remains in the hunt for major No. 1. He's been tied for second and sixth at the last two Opens and has a PGA Tour win this season, in a playoff over Brooks Koepka at the AT&T Byron Nelson. In his last pre-Open tuneup, a fifth at the BMW Championship indicates he's ready to roll at Troon.
The last time he played in The Open, Rory McIlroy won it.
Even though an injury from a pickup soccer game shelved him for last year's title defense, the Northern Irishman is approaching Royal Troon this time around as if it's still his Claret Jug to lose.
"It was really disappointing, especially at St. Andrews last year, not to be able to defend," McIlroy told reporters this week. "The last time I played The Open I won it, so good memories, and hopefully I can play similar to the way I did in Liverpool and give myself a chance."
It's a little different for Jordan Spieth this year.
Twelve months ago, the Texan was coming off consecutive wins at the Masters and the U.S. Open, setting the golf world ablaze with the possibility of a calendar Grand Slam.
This year, after a collapse at the Masters and a tie for 37th at the U.S. Open, he's among the favorites by resume, but his mojo has certainly been dealt a blow.
"What's interesting is every year from when I was about 12 years old, I had a more significant accomplishment than the year before," he said, per the Guardian. "I felt like I was a better player than the year before, and this is the first year where I don't have, to this point, an amount of significant accomplishments that I can say: 'Hey, that was a stronger year than last year.' Every single year before that, I can say that."
After three wins in 13 PGA Tour starts this season, it's no surprise that a Jason Day march to coronation at Royal Troon is on in the golf world.
In addition to his superb form this season, Day has finished inside the top 10 at the last five majors, including a career-defining win at the PGA Championship and a tie for fourth at last year's Open Championship.
Day, who's the PGA Tour leader in strokes gained from putting and its runner-up in scoring average, is No. 1 among the Big Three on the eve of the season's third major.