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Rory McIlroy Will Have Home-Field Advantage at The Open Championship

It’s time to strap on the old plus-fours, as the Open Championship is set to tee off Thursday with 156 golfers vying for a top prize of $1.95 million, with reigning champion Francesco Molinari, the only Italian ever to win the tournament, on hand to defend his title against a field that includes 14 other past winners.

The Dunluce Links at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland will serve as the site of this year’s Open, playing 7,344 yards. In 1951, Royal Portrush was the site of the first Open not held in Great Britain. With views of the Southern Hebrides and the 13th-century Dunluce Castle, people have been golfing here since 1888. The forecast for the weekend is wet and windy, so expect it to be a low scoring affair.

Duffers should beware the par-4 5th hole, a 382-yard dogleg that begins on an elevated tee before taking a right turn into a bottleneck and toward the green. If you got the nerve, you can cut the corner. But if you come a little too hard on your approach, you’re rolling toward the drink. On 16 you’ll find Calamity Corner, a 236-yard par 3, where there’s little fairway and even less green to work with.

Rory McIlroy heads into this year’s tourney as the hometown favorite according to oddsmakers, with two wins and nine more top-ten finishes under his belt. From 2011 to 2015, McIlroy racked up five majors, including the 2014 Open Championship, and he’s finished in the top five each of the last three years. 

While home-field advantage is not to be ignored, the smart money would have to be on Brooks Koepka, the reigning back-to-back PGA Championship winner. Koepka has one win and two second-place finishes at the Majors this year, earning himself the top spot in the world rankings for the past two months. That said, he’s struggled of late, finishing 57 and 65 at the Travelers Championship and 3M Open, respectively, in his last two tournaments. It would appear that maybe Mr. Koepka has a hard time finding his mojo when the stakes are relatively low.

And let’s not overlook Molinari, who’s been bouncing around the top of the rankings since winning this event by a two-stroke margin over McIlroy and Justin Rose last year. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early in the season and has been in the top 16 for each of the three majors thus far.

Of course, it’s Tiger Woods who’s the belle of every ball, especially since getting back to playing world-class golf. He’s had an odd year, having won the Masters, then failing to make the cut at the PGA Championship before finishing tied for 21st at the US Open — which Tiger will show up this weekend? It’s anybody’s guess, but we know he’ll be well rested, having not played in over a month.

Sadly, the Everyman’s Champion, John Daly, will not be on hand for the festivities, though he qualifies for an exemption as a past winner under the age of 60. Daly had originally hoped to play with the aid of a cart, in deference to his arthritic knees, as he did at the PGA Championship in May. But he dreams of playing the Open took two successive hits: first, the Open rejected his appeal for use of a cart. He took it in stride, saying via social media that he would try to play without the cart. But then he took to Twitter yet again to let it be known that he would not in fact be making the trip to Portrush as he had fallen victim to a brown recluse spider while on vacation. He claims to have ultimately needed surgery and treatment for “early sepsis.” Hang in there, buddy. 

Watch The Open Championship Thursday and Friday from 1:30am to 4pm ET on the Golf Channel and on Saturday and Sunday starting at 7am ET on NBC (in select markets).