Who will make their name known to American audiences this week at Royal Portrush? Matthew Fitzpatrick leads a short list.
For all the usual stars that will take to the revamped Dunluce course at Royal Portrush his week, there is the annual tradition of lesser-known players—at least to American audiences—making their presence felt at The Open Championship. That is no surprise, of course, given that a number of spots in the Open go to the top players on the European Tour as well as recent winners from tournaments in 10 different countries.
While there are sleepers amongst the typical PGA Tour crowd that will be jumping across the pond to Northern Ireland, there are also a number of guys that will have the chance to make their name known to U.S. fans by the end of the weekend. Here’s a look at five guys who could play their way into the spotlight:
Bernd Wiesberger (Official World Golf Ranking No. 40)
Wiesberger shouldn’t be a completely foreign name—he played in The Masters each year from 2015 to 2018, making the cut all four times and twice finishing within the top 25 of the field. The Open, however, has never been friendly to the Austrian as he’s twice missed the cut and never finished better than tied for 64th.
What Wiesberger has going for him is the momentum of a playoff win at last week’s Scottish Open. Although Frenchman Benjamin Hebert carded a 62 to come from behind and force extra holes, Wiesberger hung in until the third playoff hole to take advantage of Hebert’s three-putt and pick up a 10th professional win. Although Wiesberger isn’t a power player, he currently ranks sixth on the European Tour in greens in regulation, which will be key, especially if the conditions take a turn for the worse as they often do at The Open.
Andy Sullivan (OWGR No. 106)
The oldest name on this list, Sullivan has been playing professionally since 2011. But it’s been a bit of a downward turn for the Englishman since his best year in 2016—that season, Sullivan finished T-23 at the U.S. Open, came in 12th at the Open Championship at Royal Troon, and came up just shy of advancing to the Final 16 bracket at the WGC-Dell Match Play Championships.
Sullivan gets into this year’s Open as a result of his spot in the Race to Dubai, yet he has not won a professional tournament since October 2015. Nothing stands out about Sullivan’s game, but he’s experienced enough that his wealth of knowledge could come into play on a course that will be unfamiliar to just about everyone.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (OWGR No. 30)
Of all the guys on this list, it’s probably fair to say that Fitzpatrick has the best chance to win. Not only is he playing some of the best golf of his career, he’s also the highest-ranked player of the group. Fitzpatrick’s professional wins have only come in Europe, but his first—and biggest—in 2015 at the British Masters came on a links course when Fitzpatrick was just 21.
At the U.S. Open, Fitzpatrick nearly made it into the top 10 and his one-putt percentage of 43.2 is good for 19th on the PGA Tour. He’s going to need to be more accurate and consistent for the putting to ultimately come into play, but Fitzpatrick should find comfort on the links and give himself a shot to be in contention on the weekend.
Andrea Pavan (OWGR No. 77)
The Italian has made a rapid rise into the top 100 of the OWGR—after starting 2018 in the 700s, he strung together several nice tournaments before picking up his first pro victory at the Czech Masters last summer. He won again this year, taking down Fitzpatrick in a playoff at June’s BMW International Open—a title that has been captured by past major winners such as Henrik Stenson, Ernie Els, and Martin Kaymer.
Pavan gets into The Open as an alternate, replacing Scott Piercy, and it will be just his second-ever major appearance—he missed the cut at the 2014 U.S. Open. He finished tied for fourth on the links at last week’s Scottish Open, where he ranked 10th among the field in greens in regulation. Pavan is certainly a longshot this week, yet his recent play is reason to think he could make a run.
Eddie Pepperell (OWGR No. 35)
It’s been a relatively light season for Pepperell, who has only played in five events since taking to the course at Augusta National for The Masters. Although it’s definitely been up and down for the Englishman, Pepperell tied for third at THE PLAYERS in March, tied for second at the British Masters, and tied for fourth at the Irish Open—he’s certainly got the game to rock with the big boys this week at Royal Portrush.
The question is simply whether he’ll be on his game for 72 holes. He’s 191st on the PGA Tour in shots gained off the tee, yet is pretty accurate in terms of hitting the fairway. At 100-1, Pepperell has been a popular bet among this year’s field. Whether he’ll pay off for those gamblers remains an open question.