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The Open 2023: Storylines and players to watch this week

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HOYLAKE, England — Royal Liverpool Golf Club, which was built in 1869 and is the second-oldest seaside course in England, underwent a facelift since the last time the Open Championship was played there in 2014.

The par has been adjusted from 72 to 71. There are now four par 3s and three par 5s. The course has also been slightly lengthened from 7,312 yards to 7,383.

The biggest change is the addition of a new 17th hole. The 136-yard par 3 replaces a 458-yard par 4. The par 3, called “Little Eye,” plays out toward the Dee Estuary and Wales. Players will face tricky crosswinds on the tee, and those that miss the elevated green will be left with difficult up and downs.

Not surprisingly, the new 17th hole is getting mixed reviews.

“The old 15, par-3, was the complete opposite of the hole,” Spain’s Jon Rahm said. “You have a short downhill hole most likely downwind with basically all the edges sloping toward the center of the green. I thought it was a good hole. You could make a birdie, and if you miss the green, a bogey was lurking.

“This time, they made a really difficult turtle shell par-3. If you hit a good shot, put it on the green, you have a clear look at birdie. If you miss the green, you have a clear look at bogey. … We all have to play the same holes. If you hit a good shot, you’ll definitely most likely have a birdie chance. If not, you’ll deal with it. I get you’re going for that on a championship Sunday. You have a one-shot lead, that hole can be pivotal.”

Brooks Koepka said he likes the new par 3, comparing its length to the iconic 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, the “Island Green” 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass and the “Postage Stamp” eighth hole at Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland, the site of next year’s Open Championship.

“I think it’s an interesting hole,” Koepka said. “Depends on the wind. If you get a crosswind there, it could be pretty interesting. I’m a big believer in the short par-3s, make it difficult, exactly like that. I’m not a huge fan of 260, 250 [yards]. It kind of takes I don’t want to say the excitement out of it, but it’s kind of boring. You already know it’s a 3-iron and everybody is hitting to the same spot, where I think all the best par-3s in the world that have ever been designed are 165 yards or shorter.

“There’s a bunch of them, and you can walk away with 5 just as easy as you could [birdie] it. I like it.”

Among the other significant changes made by Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert International Golf Course Architects: The 10th hole was converted to a 507-yard par-4, making it one of the most difficult holes on the course (it was previously a 532-yard par-5); the 15th hole is now a 620-yard par-5 (previously a 161-yard par-3); and the 16th hole is now a 461-yard par-4 (previously a 577-yard par-5).

Additionally, a new fairway bunker was added to the first hole. The front of the green on the fourth hole, the shortest par-4 on the course, was raised to produce a flatter landing area, and the overall size of the green was reduced. The par-4 seventh has a new green and sand areas in the fairway. The tee boxes on the par-5 18th hole were moved back 50 yards and to the right. The out-of-bounds area on 18 was extended to make the fairway narrower.

“In terms of 18, bringing the out-of-bounds in, I think it’s a lot better,” said DP World Tour player Matthew Jordan, who has been a member at Royal Liverpool for the past 20 years. “I think it makes it a proper risk-and-reward hole. If you hit a good drive, you can go for it. Then even bailing out on the left makes the layup a lot tougher because it’s a bit longer now. I think certainly from my opinion, 18 especially has been a brilliant change.”

Defending champion Cameron Smith, who won the 150th Open at St. Andrews in Scotland, said he played holes 1 to 5 and 14 to 18 at Royal Liverpool on Sunday and indicated that the greens aren’t as fast or smooth as the ones at the Old Course last year.

“The greens out here I think are probably a little bit flatter than maybe some other greens we’ve played at The Open,” Smith said, “but the punishment for missing the green around here is I think maybe a little bit worse in some cases.”

Strong LIV Golf contingent

The potential alliance between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has cooled some of the friction between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League. There are 16 players from the LIV Golf League in the field this week, including past Open champions Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson and Smith.

Other LIV Golf players who are competing in The Open are Abraham Ancer, Richard Bland, Laurie Canter, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, Dustin Johnson, Koepka, Joaquin Niemann, Thomas Pieters and Patrick Reed.

The field doesn’t include LIV Golf’s Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia, who have combined to compete in 117 Opens in the past.

This will be the last time golf fans will get to see players from both circuits competing in the same tournament this season. It’s also the last opportunity for LIV Golf League players to gain Official World Golf Ranking points, barring an announcement by the OWGR’s governing board that players can earn points in LIV Golf League events.

A handful of LIV Golf players, including Reed, Niemann, Gooch and Ancer, need to finish in the top 10 this week to have a guaranteed spot in the 2024 Open Championship. Reed’s five-year exemption for winning the 2018 Masters ends this year, and Niemann had an exemption for qualifying for the 2022 Tour Championship. Ancer was ranked in the top 50 in the world at the end of May (he is now 68th), and Gooch qualified by finishing in the top 30 in FedEx Cup points last year.

Of course, a lot could change if the LIV Golf League and PGA Tour are unified before next year’s Open Championship.

Oh, brother

There are two sets of brothers in the field this week: Matt Fitzpatrick and his younger brother, Alex, and twins Nicolai and Rasmus Højgaard of Denmark. Alex Fitzpatrick, who played at Wake Forest, made The Open field through final qualifying. Nicolai Højgaard was among the final three qualifiers by tying for sixth in last week’s Scottish Open.

The last brothers to compete in the same Open Championship were Francesco and Edoardo Molinari at St. Andrews in 2015.

It is believed to be the first time two sets of brothers have competed in the same Open Championship since 1985, when Manuel and Seve Ballesteros of Spain and Naomichi and Tateo Ozaki of Japan competed at Royal St. George’s.

Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open champion, said he has been offering his brother plenty of advice.

“He came last week to play 18, which I think was helpful, see the golf course, no stress, no rush; and then I just told him take these next few days easy, nine holes each day,” Matt said. “I remember speaking to my coach, Mike [Walker], about what to do at my first Open back in 2013, and that’s what he stressed, is don’t tire yourself out.

“And then the other one is just no media, as well, just so he can concentrate, concentrate on myself and stay away from you lot.”

More than anything, Matt said he is looking forward to sharing the week with his brother. It will be Alex’s first start in a major. “It’s my little brother,” Matt said. “I’ve almost wanted to give Francesco and Edoardo a call and ask them, ‘What’s it like? What’s the dynamic like between you? Is it weird?’ People ask, ‘What would you do if you were in the final group on Sunday? I said, ‘Well, that would be kind of my worst nightmare, to be honest.'”

Weather forecast

Players were greeted by cooler temperatures and off-and-on periods of rain at Royal Liverpool Golf Club so far this week. It was pouring at the course on Tuesday morning. According to the week’s weather forecast from the Met Office, the forecast for the rest of the week figures to be much of the same.

Thursday’s forecast for the opening rounds calls for cloudy skies with a small chance of light showers. Temperatures are expected to range from 55 to 61 degrees. Winds from the west to northwest will be 12 to 16 mph, with gusts of 20 to 25 mph.

The forecast for the weekend, for now, is a little dicier: “Most likely a continuation of the mainly dry and moderately breezy conditions with a few showers; winds mainly from a westerly sector. Lowering confidence into the weekend with a potential for a longer spell of rain into Saturday. Feeling rather cool with temperatures below average by day, potential to recover slightly at the weekend.”

Hometown hero

Tee times for the first two rounds won’t be released until Tuesday morning, but the R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) has already announced that Jordan will hit the opening shot of the tournament on Thursday. Jordan, 27, grew up here on the Wirral Peninsula. He was 10 years old when Tiger Woods won the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool; Jordan was 18 when Rory McIlroy hoisted the Claret Jug there in 2014.

“[Woods] walked through the clubhouse in ’14 on a Sunday, trying to register, and I just froze,” Jordan said. “And then again, in ’06, he was on the putting green, and I don’t think I moved for 20 minutes. He was my kind of hero, and being able to see him in the flesh and watching him do what he did, especially around your home course, was immense.”

Jordan qualified for the Open by carding rounds of 65 and 69 to finish second in a final qualifier in West Lancashire, England, on July 4.

“I just want to play the golf course like I know I can, like I do in practice, like I normally will if I’m here preparing for any other events,” Jordan said. “And if I feel like I can do that, then I know that I can do well around here. For me, it’s not letting the occasion dictate what I exactly do. It’s just me playing the golf course.”

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