Golf’s third, and oldest, major tees off in England this week, a visible reminder of the game’s centuries-old popularity. Every year, the Open Championship (don’t call it the British Open) offers up swirling wind, stinging rain, severe yet beautiful views, demanding shots from tee to green … and it’s all done in the morning and early afternoon for us stateside. Here’s everything you need to know to watch golf’s oldest challenge.
Fire up the coffee, because you’re going to be up early. NBC Sports is televising more than 50 hours of live Open coverage from first tee shot to final putt.
Thursday & Friday:
Golf Channel, 1:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday:
Golf Channel, 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.; NBC, 7 a.m.-onward
The tournament will also stream live on NBC Sports sites and apps, as well as right here on Yahoo Sports.
Royal Birkdale: A primer
The Open returns to Royal Birkdale near Liverpool for the first time since 2008. Back then, Tiger Woods had just won his 14th major on a broken leg that forced him out for the rest of the season. Padraig Harrington stepped into the breach and won the first of his two consecutive majors.
Royal Birkdale doesn’t give up many easy wins; the names on its winners’ list are either in or headed to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, and many others notched career-defining success at one of the nine previous Opens held here.
The course has two defining features: flat, narrow fairways, which lead to predictable rolls, and directions that alternate 90 degrees or more from hole to hole, which force players to contend with wind from all angles. Rolling seaside dunes and traditional pot bunkers deep enough to hide an SUV dot the entire course.
Royal Birkdale begins with a punch to the face, a wind-driven 450-yard par 4 that’s one of the course’s toughest. (Average score in 2008: 4.52.) The closing kick includes the course’s only two par 5s in the final four holes, allowing for the possibility of a late charge up the leaderboard.
One interesting element: the R&A, which sets up the Open, has established an internal out-of-bounds line between the ninth and tenth holes. It’s actually easier to reach the ninth green by hitting onto the 10th fairway, but because there’s a grandstand in the way, the R&A decided to take that possibility off the table:
Royal Birkdale’s stark white art-deco clubhouse is quite the jarring sight if you’re accustomed to traditional ornate Old World architecture. Built in 1935, it was intended to evoke the spirit of an ocean liner sailing through Royal Birkdale’s sand dunes. It’s unique among the Open Championship courses, we’ll give it that.
Open Championship recent history
As drama goes, it’ll be tough to top 2016, which began with Phil Mickelson coming within a lipped putt of recording the greatest round in major history and ended with Henrik Stenson outdueling Mickelson in one of the finest head-to-head duels. They’ll both be back this week, Phil playing without a driver and Stenson convinced that the Open is too difficult a major to expect a repeat victory.
The Open has a way of rewarding craftiness that comes with age; it’s why 40-somethings like Stenson, Mickelson, Darren Clarke, and Ernie Els have won in recent years, and why Tom Watson nearly pulled off the most amazing golf moment of all time back in 2009, losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
Top dogs coming into this tournament are exactly who you’d expect: Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, but the 14-1 odds on each indicate just how wide-open this week is. Rickie Fowler, everyone’s consensus Best Never To Win A Major, sits just behind them at 16-1, as does rookie Jon Rahm, who’s riding the crest of a conventional-wisdom wave without a whole lot of major experience. Also high in the mix: Masters champ Sergio Garcia (18-1); his Augusta rival Justin Rose, who had a T4 at Birkdale as a 17-year-old in 2008 (20-1); perpetual Open threat Rory McIlroy (20-1), and defending champ Stenson (25-1). Value bets include Ian Poulter at 66-1 and Martin Kaymer at 100-1. (All odds via Bovada.)
The Claret Jug
We can debate the finest trophy in sports—Stanley Cup? Lombardi Trophy? Green jacket?—but the Claret Jug has the most extensive history. Every winner gets it for a year; some take it on journeys, and some, like Cink, fill it with barbecue sauce. The winner’s name is engraved on the trophy, and one of the key moments in the closing holes of the tournament comes when cameras cut to the engraver preparing to begin his work. We’ve only got a few more days to see whose name ends up on the trophy this year.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.