Early round pairings to watch - The Open Championship

Pairings for Thursday and Friday’s Open Championship rounds are out. Here are 5 pairings that I will be paying extra close attention to. Full pairings here.

Branden Grace, Patrick Reed, Byeong Hun An

This is a trio of elite young players vying for their first major championship.  Branden Grace and his low ball-flight has become everyone’s favorite sleeper pick to win, while America’s Olympian Patrick Reed continues his quest to join golf’s elite with a major championship win.  While Byeong Hun An’s name doesn’t jump off the page to a casual golf fan his golf game does. An ran away with last year’s European PGA Championship, is a former U.S. Amateur champion, and lost in a playoff earlier in the year at the Zurich Classic. 

Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry

Spieth heads into this Open Championship looking for his first major victory of the season. Last year’s Open saw Spieth fall one shot short of the 3- man playoff that Zach Johnson eventually won. 2016 has been a rocky year for England’s Justin Rose who has been battling an achy back, but if he can find some form he is one of golf’s best. The bulky Irishman Lowry will look to build off  his 2nd place finish at the U.S. Open where he held the 54-hole lead.  

Danny Willett, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

All 3 of these studs are ranked within the world’s top 10.  Day holds the top spot and looks to win his first Claret Jug after finishing 1-shot out of the 3- man playoff at last year’s championship. Since his Masters win, Danny Willett’s play has been a bit rocky with 3 missed cuts in 3 starts but we see him bringing his A-game this week. 2016 was supposed to be the year that Fowler broke out and won his first major championship. Instead, the fan-favorite has missed the cut at both the Masters and U.S. Open and fallen from the discussion of the game’s best.

Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson

This is a power pairing. Rory comes into Troon looking for his first major win since 2014 when he won both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. McIlroy may have added motivation after The Telegraph’s disparaging column. Expected to be a major contender in 2016, Japan’s young star Matsuyama looks to find the leaderboard after disappointing showings at both the Masters and U.S. Open. Bubba, the headliner for the U.S. Olympic team (how did we get to this point) looks to change an iffy Open Championship track record, his  best finish is a t23rd in 2012. 

Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els

The average age of this 3-ball is 45 years young. While Mickelson and Els are looking to add to their major titles, Lee Westwood will continue his quest for his first major championship. Westwood has added to his career of major misses in 2016,  finishing in a tie for 2nd at the Masters and playing his way into contention at the U.S. Open before stumbling with a Sunday 81.  Els looks for his 3rd Open Championship, returning to Royal Troon where he fell in a playoff to 2004 champion Todd Hamilton.  If  Els’ putter cooperates, he could be a factor late on Sunday. Mickelson’s early season form had many optimistic about Lefty adding a major win at age 46, but Phil has yet to make a cut at a major this year.  In 2004’s championship at Royal Troon, Phil finished 1-shot behind Hamilton and Els.