South African legend Gary Player has tipped Rory McIlroy to win next week’s 148th Open Championship on home soil at Royal Portrush.
“I’ve got a feeling Rory McIlroy is going to win and, boy, that would bring the house down! That would be a wonderful thing for golf in Northern Ireland,” said the nine-time Major winner, who counts three Claret Jugs in his trophy cabinet.
“That would be the most appropriate when you think that The Open hasn’t been there since 1951. And, you know, Rory won the Canadian Open with 22-under, so he’s ready. The last winner there [Royal Portrush] was Max Faulkner, who was signing his name ‘Max Faulkner. Open Champion’ after 54 holes. He was quite a character,” added Player.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Player’s first Major title in the 1959 Open at Muirfield, which he won by two shots with a closing 68 to announce his arrival on the world stage.
Having played all over the world in his storied career with more than 160 victories, Player rated Royal Portrush as one of the finest links courses he has seen.
“I don’t know if there’s a finer links golf course in the world. I think the two best links courses are Turnberry, where the redesign has done a marvellous job of bringing back the Scottish tradition, and then also Royal Portrush. You cannot get a better golf course in the world,” he noted.
“It is marvellous to see The Open going back there. Northern Ireland is a great place to have The Open and the whole of Ireland will benefit because you’re going to have hundreds of thousands of people going there from all parts of the world … and the media will explain to the world what a wonderful course, country and people they have there,” Player elaborated.
Asked what he thought of Tiger Woods’ chances as the 43-year-old American continues to chase down Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major titles, Player responded: “Well, Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods. He’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen. His judgement with his second shots to greens is probably the best I’ve ever seen. He’s as good as a putter as I’ve ever seen, and secondly, he picks the right club. He’s not a good driver of the ball and the rough is quite heavy there, so I’m sure he will use an iron off the tee or a 3-wood a lot.
“But you have to have a good draw at The Open. If you get a bad draw, which happened to Tiger at Muirfield [in 2013], you’ve got no chance.”
At age 83, Player maintains an active, globe-trotting lifestyle for his various businesses and philanthropic activities. The latter includes the Gary Player Invitational charity series, which stages events in the UAE, USA, UK and South Africa. The series has helped The Player Foundation raise more than US$64 million for impoverished children around the world. The Berenberg Gary Player Invitational will take place at Wentworth Club, close to London, on July 22 in aid of Depaul UK.