PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- The Open Championship is in Northern Ireland for just the second time in tournament history, and the first time since 1951. With the revised schedule, its now the last major of the season with the FedExCup Playoffs looming just a few weeks away. Our PGATOUR.COM experts weigh in on some of the burning questions going into Royal Portrush.
1. Tiger Woods has played 10 competitive rounds since winning the Masters. Will he benefit from the rest or struggle due to rust?
MIKE McALLISTER (Managing Editor): His previous month-off approach didnt work out (MC at the PGA Championship). But I expect him to reach the weekend this time. Gotta think all those low stingers will pay off at Royal Portrush, but by how much, tough to say. Despite his 1 a.m. ET wake-up calls at home, I dont have him in my top five favorites.
SEAN MARTIN (Senior Editor): I think winning the Masters took more out of him than we known, and his limited playing schedule is proof of that. Contending at a major is going to be difficult after such a long layoff.
BEN EVERILL (Staff Writer): I dont think rust will be the killer for Woods. I think his experience with links golf will keep him hanging around contention for most of the week -- provided he doesnt get hit by the wrong side of the draw. With Woods these days it is about being physically and mentally strong enough in the key moments. And I think he can do that this week, but I just have the feeling he will fall just short of some others. Somewhere between T5 and T15.
ANDREW TURSKY (Equipment Insider): If the month off has allowed Tiger's body time to refresh, and he feels physically capable of competing for four straight days of major championship golf, then it was the right call. His missed cut at Bethpage, in my opinion, had more to do with the course setup putting such a premium on driving the ball far and straight -- not Tiger's strongest suit -- than any sort of rust. Given that Open Championship golf rewards trajectory control, creativity around the greens and course management -- all aspects in which Tiger excels -- I like his chances to finish inside the top 15 this week.
CAMERON MORFIT (Staff Writer): The Open is so much about hitting it solid, controlling your trajectory and simply finding a way. All of those things can get just a tiny bit rusty with disuse, but then again, it's Tiger. I have no idea which Woods shows up, but yes, I'd like to have seen him get a few more competitive rounds in.
HELEN ROSS (Contributor): While I totally understand the decision to take time off, Tiger has played just three times since his phenomenal Masters win in April with a MC at the PGA, tie for ninth at the Memorial and a T12 at the U.S. Open. Granted, hes mentally tough but I have to wonder and its been 13 years since his last Open title.
2. Brooks Koepkas caddie, Ricky Elliott, is from Portrush and knows the course as well as anyone. How much is that an advantage?
McALLISTER: I think it could be a huge advantage, given that most players including the aforementioned Woods have never seen this course. Hey, we know Koepka (T2, 1, 2 in majors this year) will be in the mix. If it just benefits him by a stroke or two, that could mean the difference between winning his second major of the year and another runner-up finish.
MARTIN: Royal Portrush has undergone some fairly sizable changes since Elliott started caddying for Koepka. It was enough to mitigate the advantage. Plus, it comes down to hitting the shots. I dont think it will provide too much advantage. Thats OK, though. Koepka doesnt need it.
EVERILL: Koepka should be the favorite to win this week even if girlfriend Jena Sims caddies in her ESPYS outfit. But with the benefit of a clutch bagman like Elliott, who knows the place inside out, Koepka is an option you simply cannot ignore when looking for a winner. Youd have to think the only thing stopping Koepka from being in the top-10 at the conclusion of the week would be weather-related. Ill say Elliott brings at least a two shot advantage & and Koepka is already the best in the world.
TURSKY: Koepka's biggest advantages are that he's the best golfer in the world and he's supremely confident contending for majors. Having local knowledge on the bag, when most other competitors are going in relatively blind, is just another ace in his hand.
MORFIT: To your point, Mike, look how well Tom Lehman, 60, did at the recent 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities, which he designed and knew better than anyone. Course knowledge counts for a lot, and you have to give it more weight than usual when no one else has even seen the place.
ROSS: We all know that Koepka comes up big in the big events. Hes calculating and confident, and its not like he hasnt played well at Open Championships with two top-10s in his last three starts. Elliotts course knowledge could be the missing link.
3. Does what Rory McIlroy did at Royal Portrush at age 16 (shooting 61 on a course that has since undergone changes) have any impact on how he plays this week?