Fairy tales have enthralled, entertained and educated us for centuries.

Whether it be a lesson in morality, a magical escape or a triumph for good over evil, fairy tales have the exceptional ability to let us escape from reality.

It is a formula that succeeds time and time again. The problem is when it comes to sport, however, the lines become blurred and there is no one formula to follow.

Sport has no room for sentimentality, no time for history, no interest in assuaging our desires for the feel-good narrative. There is not always a lesson to be taught, nor always a battle between good and bad.

Just ask Tom Watson and Stewart Cink, who were part of a real-life fable that will live forever in golfing folklore.

Once upon a time, Watson was considered among the best players on the planet. At the peak of his powers in the 1970s and early 80s there was a magic and aura about the American great that resulted in eight major championships.

But, as with any great sports star, time eventually caught up with the great champion, which is what made the story of the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry so special.

By this point of his career, Watson was 59. His last major success was back in 1983, when he clinched a fifth Open at Royal Birkdale.

And yet, despite pre-tournament odds of 1500-1 and hip replacement surgery just nine months prior, Watson was on the brink of the most remarkable of victories, one which would have made him the oldest major winner of all time.

Even when Watson rolled back the years with an opening-round 65 that left him one off the lead, it was hard to imagine what we were witnessing was anything other than a nostalgic throwback to a bygone era.

Through 36 holes, though, there was an ever-increasing feeling of 'what if?' A gritty level-par round in tricky Ayrshire conditions left Watson tied for the lead. He couldn't...could he?

By the end of Saturday - which yielded a one-over 71, enough to take the outright lead - the most far-fetched dream was becoming a scarcely believable reality.

A couple of bogeys early on the Sunday hinted that the rigours of major golf on a 59-year-old's body had finally caught up. But even as Ross Fisher and then Mathew Goggin moved ahead, Watson refused to slip quietly into the background.

As the day progressed, there was drama that even Martin Scorsese in his full, creative flow could not have scripted.

While Lee Westwood played himself in and out of contention, Cink climbed the leaderboard and rolled in a 15-footer at the last to join Watson on two under and crank up the pressure. However, Watson replied to the situation with a gain of his own at 17, meaning he was just four strokes away from creating history.

Yet the fairy-tale nature of the weekend was replaced by the cruel reality of professional sport. A crisp eight iron sailed over the green, while his third back onto the putting surface left a tricky 10-footer for victory. The putt, as would be the case for Watson's efforts over the weekend, came up just short.

There was still the lottery of a play-off, yet the grind of the previous four days finally took their toll as Cink made a major breakthrough in a one-sided extra four holes.

So near, yet so far. For Watson, there was little solace to take from a herculean effort that had warmed the hearts of those watching, both at the venue and on television.

"It's a great disappointment. It [losing] tears at your gut, as it always has torn at my gut. It's not easy to take," he reflected after the final round.

For Cink, too, the gravitas of what had transpired on that fateful final day was tough to comprehend.

"I'm a little intimidated by this piece of hardware here," Cink admitted following his win. "There are a lot of emotions running through my mind and heart and I'm as proud as I can be to be here with this.

"It was fun watching Tom all week and I'm sure I speak for all the rest of the people too."

It's easy to feel for Cink. The 2009 Open was the crowning glory of his career but he he is somewhat the forgotten champion, such was the narrative that played out around him.

Since lifting the Claret Jug, Cink has failed to win another trophy on the PGA or European Tour.

But this is where those blurred fairy-tale lines come into play. This was never a story of good versus evil, never a tale of morality.

More just an epic event encapsulating sporting theatre, with a dream ending never getting to see the light of day. Certainly from Watson's point of view, it was the greatest fairy tale never told.

"It would have been a hell of a story, wouldn't it?" Watson said.

It sure would have been, Tom, it sure would have been.

Former prime minister Harold Wilson is the man said to have coined the famous phrase "a week is a long time in politics".

Such a notion is also true in the world of sports, where an ever-changing landscape means opportunities to stand and reflect are scarce.

But if the whole scene can alter in a week, imagine how contrasting things can be following a 68-year gap.

That is how long it has been since The Open Championship was last hosted at Royal Portrush, the picturesque venue for the 148th edition of golf's oldest major.

Indeed, it has been so long since the Claret Jug was last awarded at Portrush to Max Faulkner that Wilson's phrase had not been uttered at the time, with the former Labour politician credited with bringing it to life in 1964.

With that in mind, we look back at how golf, the wider sporting world, politics and pop culture looked back in 1951.


GOLF

The great Ben Hogan swept up the first two major tournaments of the year, the Masters and U.S. Open, while fellow legend Sam Snead was the US PGA Championship winner.

However, neither American great was in action at Portrush where Faulkner, nicknamed ‘The Peacock’ lifted the Claret Jug.

Known for his flamboyant dress sense, Faulkner would win his one and only major title on a day in which he had greatly tempted fate by signing a ball for a young fan with the message "Max Faulkner - Open Champion 1951". 

His approach out of the rough after a wayward tee shot at the 16th, which was left worryingly close to the out of bounds line, was described as "The greatest shot I've ever seen" by playing partner Frank Stranahan.

Later that year, the United States would beat Britain 9.5 – 2.5 at the Ryder Cup.


ELSEWHERE IN SPORTS

The European Cup was still four years away from its inception in football. Domestically, Tottenham secured a first English top-flight title in their history, while Newcastle United were FA Cup winners - the first of three triumphs in a five-year span.

Atletico Madrid defended their LaLiga title in Spain, while AC Milan dethroned Juventus in Italy and Kaiserslautern were champions in Germany.

The NFL held its first Pro Bowl Game in Los Angeles in January 1951, the year the Los Angeles Rams were championship winners. It would be 15 years until the beginning of the Super Bowl era.

A New York Yankees team consisting of future Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Joe Di Maggio celebrated World Series success in MLB - the second of four in a row - and in the NBA the Rochester Royals defeated the New York Knicks 4-3 in the Finals.

Dick Savitt claimed his two career tennis grand slams at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, with Jaroslav Drobny and Frank Sedgman winning in France and the United States respectively.

Ireland clinched Five Nations glory in rugby union and Hugo Koblet of Switzerland took the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.


POLITICS

In Great Britain, the pendulum of power at Westminster swung the way of the Conservative party in 1951.

Clement Attlee's Labour government was ousted from power as Winston Churchill was elected for his second term as prime minister.

The Korean War had been waging for a year by the time The Open was at Portrush, as the tensions of the Cold War continued to run high.

President Harry S. Truman was midway through his second term in the United States, having assumed the presidency after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

Joseph Stalin was still General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It would be two years before Stalin's death.


POP CULTURE

The album charts in the United Kingdom would not start until a year later, but Bing Crosby and Doris Day were enjoying success on both sides of the Atlantic.

Perry ComoNat King Cole and Tony Bennett were among the artists to have number one singles in the United States, as the world would have to wait a few years to be treated to the vocal talents of Elvis Presley and a decade for The Beatles.

J.D. Salinger's literary classic 'The Catcher in the Rye' was published on July 16, just 10 days after the finish of The Open at Portrush.

Jose Ferrer and Judy Holliday were recognised with the respective best actor and actress gongs at the Academy Awards, where All About Eve was named best motion picture for which Joseph L. Mankiewicz swept up best director.

How do you top what happened on Sunday?

That question will be asked by the R&A in the next few days ahead of the 148th Open Championship after a weekend of phenomenal sporting drama.

At Lord's, hosts and pre-tournament favourites England won the men's Cricket World Cup for the first time in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Ben Stokes' heroics with the bat took England into an unlikely Super Over with New Zealand, after a scarcely believable final six balls yielded the 15 runs England required to tie the game.

The drama was not over there, not even close.

England posted New Zealand a target of 16 in their additional over. The Black Caps could only match their opponents despite Jofra Archer coughing up a wide on his first delivery and then being hit for six, meaning Eoin Morgan's men won by the way of boundary count in a finale befitting any Hollywood blockbuster.

Just down the road at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer served up a five-set classic in the men's singles final.

The two modern-day greats went toe to toe as Wimbledon's new rule enforced from 2019 saw a final-set tie-break come into play at 12-12. It was Djokovic who defended his title to deny Federer a ninth Wimbledon crown and 21st slam overall after almost five hours of gruelling, gripping tennis.

A Super Over, a super tie-break, a super day of unimaginable sport. 

Which is why there will be so much expectation on golf's biggest stars to deliver when The Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years.

If the action on the course can be as mesmerising as the picturesque backdrops surrounding the Dunluce Links then it will be job done. There is a growing sense that the game's biggest stars need to deliver a show, though.

How tournament organisers would love a repeat of Tiger Woods' dramatic Masters triumph in April, which ended his 11-year wait for major glory.

A fourth Open triumph was on the cards a year ago at Carnoustie when Woods surged into contention, only to fall away in what was a familiar story in 2018 as Francesco Molinari claimed a richly deserved win.

The crowds following Woods that day were 10-people deep, desperately scrambling for the best vantage point of the global icon. That is the draw he has - how timely it would be for golf if he could generate that same buzz at Portrush.

One man who will draw the crowds regardless of performance is Rory McIlroy, who will carry the weight of an expectant home crowd on his shoulders.

It was back in 2005 as a precocious, curly haired 16-year-old that McIlroy took Portrush to bits in the North of Ireland Championship to fire a course-record 61.

Changes to the course since mean such heroics are unlikely to be repeated, but McIlroy will be aware that now is the prime time to end a barren run of five years without a major title.

Brooks Koepka is another with the skills to bring the thrills having turned himself into a major-winning machine. Were it not for Gary Woodland's fantastic performance at Pebble Beach, he would have had a third consecutive U.S. Open to his name last month.

The rest of a star-studded field can play their part too, with recent history suggesting we can get a tournament to rival the dramas that unfolded elsewhere on Sunday. It is three years since Henrik Stenson outbattled Phil Mickelson in one the most memorable final days in Open history at Troon, while a year later it was Jordan Spieth's recovery from an infamous meltdown to deny Matt Kuchar that stole the headlines at Birkdale.

A daunting gauntlet has admittedly been laid down by the events at Lord's and Wimbledon, but golf will hope the star turns can take centre stage at Portrush.

It's been 68 years since Royal Portrush last hosted The Open Championship and excitement is building ahead of the start of the 148th edition of the tournament.

Sunday was the first official practice day and several players took to the course a day later to get familiar with a venue most in the field will never have played.

And there was plenty going on around the course as the build-up kicks into gear.

Below, Omnisport's team on the ground round up some of the best goings on in Northern Ireland.

 

TIGER'S TEE TROUBLES

Nothing can make your own golf abilities feel quite so inadequate as watching the pros tee it up at The Open.

But, rest assured, even the greatest of greats can encounter a few woes out on the course, even 15-time major winners like Tiger Woods!

While preparing to hit off at the 11th, Woods needed a few attempts to get his ball to stay on the tee, much to the amusement of the watching patrons and the party involved with his playing group that included Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

"God damn it!" Tiger exclaimed. "My short little tees just don't work."


WATER GOOD IDEA BY THE OPEN

We all want to do our bit to help protect the environment, right?

Well the good folks here at The Open do as well and this year the tournament has removed all single-use plastic bottles.

In their place, players (and indeed members of the media) have been provided with special edition refillable bottles, with water stations placed all around the course.

Good on you, folks.

GOODBYE, AT LEAST FOR NOW, MY FRIEND

None of us here at Omnisport have ever triumphed in a major golf tournament, nor do we expect any of us ever will…

But it's easy to imagine that the toughest part of winning a Claret Jug is handing it back a year later.

That's exactly what defending champion Francesco Molinari had to do on Monday and the Italian had to ensure the famous trophy was kept in some safe places…

"I was very, very careful with it, especially the first few weeks," he said.

"We've had a couple of drinks out of it. Nothing out of the ordinary. I've got small kids at home so I had to keep it out of reach most of the time to avoid disaster!"

 

CLARET CHUG?

Jordan Spieth is a man who knows how to win a Claret Jug, having triumphed in a day of high drama at Royal Birkdale a couple of years back.

And to start his latest tilt for a second Open Championship, Spieth partook in an American pastime of chugging down a can…

Although we're not entirely sure what was in inside.

In Portrush, the scenic Northern Irish coastal town playing host to this year's Open Championship, there is an ice cream parlour that boasts a rendering of Francesco Molinari made entirely from sprinkles.

It must have taken some considerable work to put together but by all accounts it was worth the effort, if you like that sort of thing. Not that Molinari has been to see it.

He is a busy man and not nearly as frivolous as the edible artwork created in his likeness. His focus this week is on retaining the Claret Jug he won last year in no less painstaking a manner than one imagines would be required to pay homage to a man via the medium of confectionery. 

Building up to the 2018 Open at Carnoustie the Italian was firmly under the radar, not considered a genuine challenger, and that seemed a fair assessment when he closed Friday's round six shots adrift.

But something happened over that weekend in Scotland that transformed Molinari. Or, perhaps more accurately, transformed the perception of Molinari.

You see, the man himself appears immune to change. Before becoming Champion Golfer of the Year, he was placid, low-key, modest. And afterwards? He was still all of those things, but somehow more so.

Amid the hype and hyperbole of his maiden major, secured by a stunning 65 on the Saturday and a nerveless, bogey-free 69 on the Sunday that saw him pull clear of a chasing pack featuring far glitzier names, Molinari's restraint was almost unimpeachable.

And suddenly people were interested in this quiet, unassuming man, whose reserved nature only caused him to be thrust further into the spotlight. He was a curio, worthy of closer scrutiny; people wanted to know what made him tick, or if his introversion was something he fought, something to be overcome.

During a media conference ahead of the Ryder Cup he was labelled "insular", the reporter who made the claim drawing a stark contrast between Molinari and the majority of his European team-mates, whose more expressive characters were painted as more desirable.

The answer was unemotional but considered, and it was absolutely true - "There's no point in trying to be something that you're not".

Of course, Molinari went on to light up Le Golf National with a perfect record, forming one half of the legendary 'Moliwood' duo with Tommy Fleetwood, a double act where nobody had any trouble identifying the straight man. And he did it his way - calmly, without fuss.

The quiet man brought an entire continent to a crescendo. Again, perceptions changed, but he did not.

And now, heading into this week at Portrush as the reigning champion, there are new expectations to deal with, the kind that come with being firmly on the radar, and not at all under it.

After the Masters, where Molinari slept on a two-stroke lead heading into a final day in which he shot a 74 to finish two behind eventual winner Tiger Woods, he is also having to deal with everyone realising he is indeed human, and therefore not entirely unaffected by pressure.

With that collapse, the myth of the unflappable Molinari - a ridiculous one at any rate - could no longer survive. But that was only ever the perception, and not one Molinari was invested in.

He is much more complex than the timid and reticent golfer so ripe for parody. Not unlike a masterpiece made of ice cream sprinkles - the closer you look, the more you find there is to admire.

So it was with little fanfare that Molinari held his media conference on Monday. It was not a packed room, there was little in the way of well-worn anecdotes, or of misty-eyed reminiscences. His Portrush canvas is blank for now, but ready for a sprinkling of Molinari magic.

Darren Clarke says Royal Portrush hosting The Open is a sign of the "incredible journey" everyone in Northern Ireland has come through, as hosting the tournament previously seemed "beyond the realms of possibility".

Golf's oldest major is back at Portrush for the first time in 68 years and 2011 champion Clarke believes it represents a marquee moment following the Northern Ireland conflict, a period in the country’s history also known as ‘The Troubles’.

Clarke recently revealed he was almost a victim of the violence while working at a bar in 1986, with the establishment evacuated before a car bomb went off outside the venue.

"It was a job that I had setting up a bar and there was a bomb behind it. We got a bomb scare. And everybody out - I was in there from six o'clock. The club opened at 8.30," he said. 

"I'd been setting up one of the bars. The bomb scare was at 8.30, everybody out, bomb went off at 9.00 and the place was flattened.

"That was life in Northern Ireland. Bombs were going off quite frequently. And a lot of people, unfortunately, paid a heavy penalty for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that was our life back there at that stage.

"You think about it at that stage, with everything that was going on, whether we were ever going to have a tournament such as this. It was beyond the realms of possibility. It was just never going to happen. 

"So, to get to the point where you guys [the media] are all sitting here doing this has been an incredible journey for what we've all come through."

It will be a particularly poignant moment for Clarke on Thursday when he has the honour of hitting the opening tee shot at the 148th Open.

"Will there be tears? No. I'll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland," Clarke added. 

"It goes without saying, it's a huge thing to have it [The Open] back here in Northern Ireland again."

The benefit of local knowledge has been something Clarke's peers have been keen to tap into and he has been only too happy to share his wisdom, though that fierce competitive nature still exists within him.

"Yeah, of course I want to beat them!" Clarke said. "But at the same time, they're all good guys, I like them all. I've been giving them whatever information that they wanted and a little bit more."

How do you top what happened on Sunday?

That question will be asked by the R&A in the next few days ahead of the 148th Open Championship after a weekend of phenomenal sporting drama.

At Lord's, hosts and pre-tournament favourites England won the men's Cricket World Cup for the first time in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Ben Stokes' heroics with the bat took England into an unlikely Super Over with New Zealand, after a scarcely believable final six balls yielded the 15 runs England required to tie the game.

The drama was not over there, not even close.

England posted New Zealand a target of 16 in their additional over. The Black Caps could only match their opponents despite Jofra Archer coughing up a wide on his first delivery and then being hit for six from the next, meaning Eoin Morgan's men won by the way of boundary count in a finale befitting any Hollywood blockbuster.

Just down the road at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer served up a five-set classic in the men's singles final.

The two modern-day greats went toe to toe as Wimbledon's new rule enforced from 2019 saw a final-set tie-break come into play at 12-12. It was Djokovic who defended his title to deny Federer a ninth Wimbledon crown and 21st slam overall after almost five hours of gruelling, gripping tennis.

A Super Over, a super tie-break, a super day of unimaginable sport. 

Which is why there will be so much expectation on golf's biggest stars to deliver when The Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years.

If the action on the course can be as mesmerising as the picturesque backdrops surrounding the Dunluce Links then it will be job done. There is a growing sense that the game's biggest stars need to deliver a show, though.

How tournament organisers would love a repeat of Tiger Woods' dramatic Masters triumph in April, which ended his 11-year wait for major glory.

A fourth Open triumph was on the cards a year ago at Carnoustie when Woods surged into contention, only to fall away in what was a familiar story in 2018 as Francesco Molinari claimed a richly deserved win.

The crowds following Woods that day were 10-people deep, desperately scrambling for the best vantage point of the global icon. That is the draw he has - how timely it would be for golf if he could generate that same buzz at Portrush.

One man who will draw the crowds regardless of performance is Rory McIlroy, who will carry the weight of an expectant home crowd on his shoulders.

It was back in 2005 as a precocious, curly haired 16-year-old that McIlroy took Portrush to bits in the North of Ireland Championship to fire a course-record 61.

Changes to the course since mean such heroics are unlikely to be repeated, but McIlroy will be aware that now is the prime time to end a barren run of five years without a major title.

Brooks Koepka is another with the skills to bring the thrills having turned himself into a major-winning machine. Were it not for Gary Woodland's fantastic performance at Pebble Beach, he would have had a third consecutive U.S. Open to his name last month.

The rest of a star-studded field can play their part too, with recent history suggesting we can get a tournament to rival the dramas that unfolded elsewhere on Sunday. It is three years since Henrik Stenson outbattled Phil Mickelson in one the most memorable final days in Open history at Troon, while a year later it was Jordan Spieth's recovery from an infamous meltdown to deny Matt Kuchar that stole the headlines at Birkdale.

A daunting gauntlet has admittedly been laid down by the events at Lord's and Wimbledon, but golf will hope the star turns can take centre stage at Portrush.

Francesco Molinari described winning The Open as a life-changing experience and admits he was not prepared for the level of expectation that comes with being a major champion.

A year ago, Molinari made his major breakthrough at Carnoustie after a fine bogey-free two-under-par final round saw him clinch a two-shot victory.

Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were among the star-studded cast to have challenged unsuccessfully against Molinari, who went on to take five points from five matches in Europe's winning Ryder Cup effort at Le Golf National.

Molinari is excited by the prospect of defending a major title, even if nothing could have prepared him for the additional responsibilities attached to winning one of golf's big four.

"No, I wasn't prepared for that [the rising expectation levels]. It was quite a big challenge, especially at the beginning, to get used to it," he said.

"I guess it's something you learn to deal with, especially obviously the win last year came after a certain period of time where I played some really good golf. So, expectations kept rising almost every week I was playing.

"But I think now I've learned to do a decent job of managing that. Obviously this week is going to be extra special, and any week that you defend is special. And especially at a major championship. So, it's going to be another new experience for me.

"It changes your life, really, especially for a guy like me who likes to go a little bit under the radar and doesn't really need the attention.

"It changes a lot in terms of everyday life, getting recognised by more people, commitments. Every tournament you play there's more things to do. And obviously time with the media, but also with sponsors and various different things to do. That's been the other adaptation that I needed to get used to.

"It's even more impressive to think of the guys who have won a lot more major championships and they face a different challenge to some other guys."

Molinari had the opportunity to add to his Claret Jug with a green jacket at the Masters in April, but a disappointing last-round 74 left him in a tie for fifth as Woods ended an 11-year wait for major glory.

The Italian had led through three rounds and he says only time will tell if he has learned from the experience.

"I don't know [if I can learn anything], it depends in what position I get into on Sunday," he added.

"All kind of experiences help you going forward. I'm sure if I'm going to be lucky enough to be in contention on Sunday, obviously the experience from Carnoustie last year will help me, the experience from the Masters will help me. But many, many others that I've had through my career.

"When you lose, in a way you want to forget about it as quickly as possible. But obviously then you analyse it and see what's going wrong, if something has gone wrong."

Tiger Woods will start his quest for a fourth Open Championship alongside compatriot Patrick Reed, while home favourite Rory McIlroy joins U.S. Open victor Gary Woodland for the first two rounds at Royal Portrush.

American great Woods, who won a 15th major title at the Masters in April, tees off at 3.10pm local time alongside the man who presented him with his latest green jacket, and Englishman Matt Wallace.

McIlroy will be backed by fervent home support at Portrush, where he set a course-record 61 as a 16-year-old in 2005. 

In his threesome is Woodland and Paul Casey, the former having made a major breakthrough at Pebble Beach last month.

Reigning champion Francesco Molinari starts his defence shortly before 10am on Thursday and the Italian has Bryson DeChambeau and Adam Scott for company in a marquee group.

Four-time major winner and world number one Brooks Koepka has been paired with 2010 champion Louis Oosthuizen and Shubhankar Sharma, while Dustin Johnson is alongside Jason Day and Keegan Bradley.

The honour of the opening tee shot goes to local hero Darren Clarke, who clinched the Claret Jug eight years ago.

While Royal Portrush will be uncharted territory for the majority of the field at the 148th Open Championship, there is a strong sense of familiarity for Rory McIlroy.

The four-time major champion set a course-record 61 at one of the toughest links venues – which has not held The Open since 1951 – as a 16-year-old in 2005.

A lot has changed in the 14 years since but McIlroy's knowledge of Portrush, coupled with the fervent backing of a partisan home crowd in Northern Ireland, should aid his cause.

But there is a star-studded cast – led by world number one and four-time major victor Brooks Koepka – who will all be desperate to deny McIlroy a dream home coming.

Here, three Omnisport writers pick out their players to watch in the battle for the Claret Jug.

 

PETER HANSON

Favourite: Brooks Koepka

Koepka's phenomenal record in major tournaments includes a couple of top-10 placings at The Open. A year ago, Koepka was a distant 39th at Carnoustie, but that was sandwiched by triumphs at the U.S. Open and US PGA Championship. He secured another PGA title in May, and only a wonderful four days from Gary Woodland denied him a third consecutive U.S. success. Koepka often feels he does not receive the acclaim he deserves but the fact the attention will be focused on McIlroy should play into his hands at Portrush.

Likely challengers: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Tommy Fleetwood

Rahm's three attempts to win The Open have hardly been a success story – a tie for 44th two years ago his best result. But the passionate Spaniard has two top-10 major finishes in 2019 and won the Irish Open this month, so will be feeling confident at Portrush. For a while now it has appeared a matter of when not if Schauffele becomes a major champion. Respective finishes of second and third at the Masters and U.S. Open further enhanced his major pedigree and he proved his ability to contend on tricky Open courses when ending as runner-up at Carnoustie a year ago. Fleetwood's form in recent months has been patchy, but the amiable Englishman has the sort of clutch-scoring ability that should suit Portrush.

Outside bet: Graeme McDowell

The halcyon days of winning the U.S. Open in 2010 may seem like a distant memory for the former world number four, who last year was ranked as low as 239. But 'G Mac' has shown signs of improvements this year, recording top-10 finishes at the Texas Open and Canadian Open, while he flirted with contention at last month's U.S. Open before finishing 16th. And do not discount the power of local knowledge. While the majority of the focus will undoubtedly fall McIlroy's way, Portrush native McDowell will be desperate to impress in front of home support.

RUSSELL GREAVES

My favourite: Francesco Molinari

When Molinari lifted the Claret Jug in 2018, he did so to little fanfare. On that Sunday at Carnoustie, his name was not the most illustrious of the contenders. Rory McIlroy was up there, as was Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and, of course, Tiger Woods. What separated this quiet, unassuming Italian from that star-studded field was his immense calmness under pressure. He went bogey-free in a two-under par 69 in tricky conditions that will likely be replicated at Portrush. When the going gets tough, this guy will get going.

Likely challengers: Koepka, Spieth and Fleetwood

Because since when does Koepka not challenge at a major? It is what he does. Time and time again. How Spieth would yearn for that kind of consistency now, but he did make a decent fist of retaining his title last year and it can never be declared a surprise to see him in the mix. Fleetwood was the focus of much of the pre-tournament attention when Spieth triumphed, with Royal Birkdale his home course. He may not have the same intimate knowledge of this track, but how poetic it would be to see the Claret Jug passed from one half of the Ryder Cup 'Moliwood' partnership to the other.

Outside bet: Matt Kuchar

Kuchar came mighty close to glory two years ago, but Spieth's stunning revival from his 13th-hole woes kept his compatriot at arm's length. Back then, Spieth said Kuchar would win a major one day. This could be his year.

JON FISHER

My favourite: Fleetwood

Fleetwood is without a win in 2019 but has recorded four top-10 finishes. He is likely to enjoy the conditions at Portrush. The links course on the upper tip of Northern Ireland is defended primarily by the wind which could play into the hands of a man brought up on the blowy north west coast of England. Fleetwood is overdue a major breakthrough and will enjoy considerable support.

Likely challengers: McIlroy, Koepka and Spieth

No real surprises here. McIlroy holds the course record at Portrush. Expectation could be an issue in his home country but he has the tools to dominate. Spieth won the Open in 2017 and was tied for the 54-hole lead 12 months ago before falling away. He hasn't won since his Birkdale triumph but seems to thrive in UK conditions. And Koepka because, well, it's Koepka.

Outside bet: Adam Scott

Scott, like Spieth, is very much at home at the Open. Four consecutive top-10 finishes from 2012-2015 - he should have claimed the Claret Jug in 2012 but bogeyed the last four holes to finish second to Ernie Els by a shot - show a pedigree on this type of layout. The swing has never been a problem and his putting is, very belatedly, not proving a hindrance.

The 148th Open Championship begins at Royal Portrush on Thursday as the world's best golfers battle it out for the Claret Jug.

For just the second time in the storied history of the tournament, the sport's oldest major will be staged in Northern Ireland, the home of 2014 champion Rory McIlroy.

And that is not the only interesting piece of trivia behind The Open, as these facts from Opta prove.

 

- Northern Ireland's tally of six major wins is more than any other European country since the turn of the century – Rory McIlroy (4), Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke (one each).

Francesco Molinari – victorious at Carnoustie last year – is looking to become the first player to win back to back Opens since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008.

- Brooks Koepka is 30 under par in the 2019 majors,13 shots better than any other player (Dustin Johnson -17).

- Rory McIlroy's last four Open participations have seen him finish in the top five.

- Since the start of 2018, Jon Rahm has either finished in the Top 10 (four times) or missed the cut (three times) at majors.

- Tiger Woods last won the Claret Jug in 2006 at Hoylake – if he were to win at Portrush, it would be the longest gap between two Open victories.

Jordan Spieth has led (outright or share) at the end of five of the last eight rounds at The Open.

- Only Brooks Koepka (three) has had more top-three finishes in this year's majors than Xander Schauffele (two), who finished in a tie for second at Carnoustie in 2018.

- Only one of the last 23 majors has been won by a player from outside Europe or the United States: Australia's Jason Day (2015 US PGA Championship).

- Nick Faldo is the last English player to win The Open, that victory coming 27 years ago in 1992 at Muirfield.

Dylan Frittelli celebrated his maiden PGA Tour title after winning the John Deere Classic by two strokes.

South African Frittelli carded a seven-under-par 64 to hold off a red-hot Russell Henley and emerge triumphant at 21 under on Sunday.

Frittelli played steady golf all weekend and made just one bogey throughout the tournament, with the 29-year-old was mistake-free on Saturday and Sunday.

The win will propel Frittelli up the FedEx Cup standings, where he previously sat 153rd and earned him an invitation to next week's Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

It will be the third consecutive Open Championship Frittelli will compete in after missing the cut the two previous seasons.

"It's still sinking in," Frittelli – who will also appear in the first three majors next season – said. "It means a lot. My focus this week was to just try and get some FedEx Cup points and try to move up in that top 125, and now, perspective is going to change big time.

"Jump on that flight and head over to the Open next week. Hopefully, I can be calm by the time I get there. It's going to be a fun flight."

Henley put pressure on Frittelli after rocketing up the standings with the low round of the day – a 10-under-par 61 at TPC Deere Run.

The three-time Tour champion was seeking his first win since 2017 and used a spectacular final round to stay in contention. However, he was unable to leapfrog Frittelli.

Andrew Landry (69) rounded out the top three at 18 under, while Collin Morikawa (66) and Chris Stroud (67) were a stroke further back in a two-way tie for fourth.

Cameron Tringale and Andrew Landry earned a share of the one-stroke lead after the third round at the John Deere Classic.

Tringale carded a six-under-par 65 and fellow American Landry posted a penultimate-round 67 to rise to the top of the leaderboard on Saturday.

Seeking his maiden PGA Tour title, Tringale had seven birdies and a bogey as he climbed three positions at TPC Deere Run.

Landry – winner of last year's Texas Open – is also 16 under through 54 holes following a round which included six birdies and a pair of bogeys on the back nine.

Bill Haas, who has not won an event on Tour since January 2015, is one shot back following his seven-under-par 64, alongside Adam Schenk (66).

Four golfers are tied for fifth at 14 under, including Nick Watney (64) – who continues to have an under-the-radar solid season.

Meanwhile, Matthew Wolff continues to impress after his third-round 67 to be tied for 33rd.

Wolff won the 3M Open in just his third professional start last week, having won the NCAA individual title with Oklahoma State six weeks earlier.

"I would not be surprised if he was on that Presidents Cup team that went to Australia," Charles Howell III said on Wolff. "He would be a guy to look at if I was Tiger [Woods]."

Jhonattan Vegas is feeling it at the John Deere Classic, taking a one-stroke lead after the second round on Friday.

The 34-year-old Venezuelan shot a nine-under 62 in the second round to move into the solo lead at 13 under for the tournament.

He piggy-backed off his first-round 67, during which he had just one blemish on his scorecard with a double bogey on the par-four fifth hole.

On Friday, however, he went mistake-free and carded nine birdies on his way to the top of the leaderboard.

Vegas is looking for his first win on the PGA Tour since the Canadian Open in 2017.

Andrew Landry sits one shot back after a second straight six-under 65 moved him to 12 under.

The American has made just one bogey in two days.

Lucas Glover sits in solo third at 11 under. The 2009 U.S. Open champion had the highlight of the day with an albatross at the 10th hole.

He holed a shot from 255 yards to move to four under for the day before finishing with a 64.

Five men, including Daniel Berger, sit in a tie for fourth place at 10 under.

Roberto Diaz earned a two-stroke lead after the first round of the John Deere Classic.

Diaz carded a nine-under-par 62 to set the early pace at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois on Thursday.

The 32-year-old – who has never won on the PGA Tour, and before 2019 he had not earned a top-10 finish since 2016 – enjoyed a bogey-free round.

Mexican Diaz had seven birdies and an eagle to top the leaderboard ahead of American duo Adam Long and Russell Henley.

After the top three on the course, there is a six-way tie at six under, which includes Martin Laird, Ryan Palmer and Vaughn Taylor.

Elsewhere on the course, Bill Haas shot a five-under 66, Matthew Wolff is four under and Luke Donald is a stroke further back.

Zach Johnson – the 2012 winner had a disappointing day as he sits one over following a 72.

Meanwhile, defending champion Michael Kim posted a first-round 73 to be in a tie for 134th.

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