Rory McIlroy on Royal St George's 18th

Credit: Getty Images

After a one-year absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Open Championship returns to the golfing calendar at Kent links Royal St George’s. 

Golf’s oldest major championship was last held at the Sandwich layout in 2011 when Darren Clarke upset the odds to secure an emotional victory. Previous winners at St George’s include unfancied American Ben Curtis in 2003 and Greg Norman in 1993. 

This year’s tournament has been disrupted by a series of withdrawals due to coronavirus protocols and the strict measures in place in the UK. 

When does it start? 

The first round begins on Thursday 15 July and the final round is on Sunday 18 July. 

What are the tee times?

The start times for the first and second round will be finalised on the Tuesday before the tournament. There is a one-tee start at The Open which means all competitors start on the first, rather than the field being split between first and 10th as is the case at the US Open and USPGA Championship. 

It means tee times run throughout the day during the first two rounds. The early starters will tee off at around 6.30am with the last group going off at around 4pm. Players who start early on Thursday will be late on Friday and vica versa. 

With the weather fickle at the British seaside, this can mean there is some luck involved in being on the right side of the draw. 

Dustin Johnson during a practice round at Royal St George's

Credit: Getty Images

What TV channel is it on?

Sky Sports Golf and Sky Sports Main Event now have exclusive live coverage of The Open. Coverage begins on Thursday at 6.30am and lasts until 8.30pm. Alternatively, you can bookmark this page and return to follow all the action on our dedicated live blog with Daniel Zeqiri. 

What do we know about Royal St George’s? 

A classical links on England’s south east coast, St George’s most distinctive feature is the rolling undulations of the fairways, which can kick a seemingly good drive into trouble. It also features a number of blind shots, in contrast to venues such as Royal Birkdale which are very much all in front of the player. 

James Bond author Ian Fleming was one of the club’s famous members. 

The course will measure 7,189 yards and play as a par 70 for the tournament. 

The greatest walk in golf is ready for the greatest players in golf ⛳️ #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/D3Qxiyz5sP

— The Open (@TheOpen) July 11, 2021

What is the weather forecast? 

The last few weeks have seen plenty of rain leaving the course looking quite lush and green by the standards of summer. 

Some more light rain is expected on Monday and Tuesday but the forecast is set fair for the rest of the week with temperatures in the low 20s and only a moderate breeze. 

What is the latest with withdrawals? 

The field took two hits this weekend as Masters champions Hideki Matsuyama and Bubba Watson withdrew.

Matsuyama, who tested positive for COVID-19 after the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on July 2, won’t travel due to United Kingdom health protocols.

The reigning Masters champ has remained quarantined since and hasn’t shown symptoms, but continues to test positive on PCR tests.

Please read… pic.twitter.com/ryN6tDL2TU

— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) July 11, 2021

"I’m feeling fine but haven’t been able to practice in preparation for The Open," said Matsuyama in a statement. "Combining that with the difficult travel to the UK, my team and I have decided it’s best to withdraw to ensure everyone’s safety."

Matsuyama will focus on the Tokyo Olympics, which begins its golf competition on July 29.

Watson, a two-time Masters winner, withdrew after having direct contact with someone who tested positive.

"While I am vaccinated and have passed the required pre-travel Covid test, not enough time has passed for me to comfortably join the charter flight and risk exposure to the other players and personnel on board," explained Watson.

They’ll be replaced in the field with Americans Harold Varner III and Brendan Steele. Two more Americans, John Catlin and Adam Long, are now the first and second alternates.

What are our writers saying? 

You can read James Corrigan’s interview with Darren Clarke, who reflected on his 2011 win at St George’s: 

“That week I was so calm and collected, was just fully accepting. Wherever the ball finished it didn’t bother me. God, I wish I could have bottled that feeling. The weather was rough, suited me down to the ground, and I was that unflustered I didn’t look at a leaderboard until the 16th green and I was four clear – so it was only a case of not buggering it up. 

“I was actually working with two psychologists at that time – Rotella and Mike Finnigan – and I guess that’s another first. But when your mind gets as messed up as my mind, then needs must. Whatever help you can get and whatever direction it comes from. I’m not proud.”

Who are the leading contenders?

Jon Rahm (7/1): Won the US Open in style at Torrey Pines last month, is the world’s in form player and has a solid links record. Was in good position at Royal Portrush two years ago but faded with a final round 75 to finish T11 but does have two Irish Open wins on his CV at seaside courses. 

Rory McIlroy (16/1): Still searching for consistency in his long game but there were good signs with a T7 finish at the US Open. Open winner in 2014 and a greener, more receptive course should be up his alley with no serious breeze. 

Dustin Johnson (18/1): Contended here in 2011 before spraying his second to the treacherous par five 14th out of bounds. Johnson’s class is undoubted but it has been a poor year with no top 10 since February. 

Brooks Koepka (18/1): After an injury ravaged year there have been signs of Koepka getting back to top form at the majors with consecutive top five finishes at Kiawah Island and Torrey Pines. T4 and T6 finishes at The Open in 2019 and 2017 with Northern Irishman Ricky Elliott on the bag. 

Brooks Koepka has been back to something like his best

Credit: PA

Justin Thomas (18/1): When he is hot, he is red hot but Thomas has not had his best golf for a while. Without a top 10 since winning the Players Championship in March and wayward driving could well prove his downfall. Missed two of four cuts at The Open. 

Xander Schauffele (20/1): The bridesmaid at so many majors in recent years with no real weaknesses, apart from his ability to get across the winning line perhaps.T2 at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. 

Jordan Spieth (20/1): Produced a memorable run of birdies to win this at Royal Birkdale in 2017 and has been much improved in 2021, finishing third at the Masters but failing to contend at the USPGA and US Open. 

Bryson DeChambeau (25/1): The big hitter has a miserable Open record, missing two cuts and finishing T52 on three appearances. Will have new caddie Brian Zeigler on the bag. 

Louis Oosthuizen (28/1): Finished second at the US Open and USPGA this season and is becoming a major specialist. Won his Open at St Andrews in 2010 but perhaps does not convert as many opportunities as he should.

Viktor Hovland (30/1): Was in sensational form in the early months of the year, and heads into his first Open appearance in good spirits after winning in Germany last month. Can he adapt to the challenges of links golf?