GOLF

Winners of golf’s major championships far too soon in 2023

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Golf’s major season ended with Australian Cameron Smith winning the 150th Open and lifting the Claret Jug at St. Andrews on Sunday.

Smith became the sixth consecutive player in his twenties to win a major and the second straight rookie. Matt Fitzpatrick landed his first at the US Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, in June.

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Unfortunately, the next major, which is the Masters, will not come for nine months. The FedEx Cup qualifiers will still be played in August and the Presidents Cup in September, but another major season has passed.

Which players are next to become grand champions in 2023? Here are my best guesses, unless, of course, one of my predicted winners jumps to LIV Golf and is declared ineligible by a governing body by then.

The Masters

When: April 6-9, 2023
Where: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia
Defending Champion: Scottie Scheffler

Winner in 2023: Rory McIlroy

to play

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Rory McIlroy reflects on his performance at The Open Championship after finishing third.

Besides Scheffler, who landed his first major by winning a green jacket last spring, no one has played better and more consistently this season than McIlroy.

McIlroy has finished in the top 10 at each of the four majors this season: he was only second at the Masters, eighth at the PGA Championship, tied fifth at the US Open and third at the Open. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, McIlroy is only the fourth player to place in the top five in major tournaments without winning one since 1983. Rickie Fowler (2014), Ernie Els (2004) and Ben Crenshaw (1987) were the others.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion, has now played eight full seasons since winning his last (the 2014 PGA Championship). He has suffered so many near-misses during that streak, finishing in the top five at majors nine times in that span and 17 times in the top 10, the most of any player since 2015.

At some point, the drought has to end, and there would be no better place for McIlroy to do that than Augusta National. By winning a green jacket, he would become just the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam during the Masters era. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen are the only ones to have accomplished the historic feat. In 2023, this will be McIlroy’s ninth attempt to try to join them.

McIlroy seemed to exorcise some demons from the Masters in April. He blew a 4-stroke lead in the final round in 2011, hanging his tee on No. 10 in the booths and carding an 80. Last spring, he shot 8-under 64 on Sunday, tying the score the lowest ever in the final round of the Masters. He finished 3 strokes behind Scheffler and had a great time on the 18th green, when he came out of a greenside bunker.

McIlroy has finished in the top 10 at the Masters six times since completing three quarters of a career Grand Slam. He seemed to understand some things this spring.

“I always knew I could do it,” McIlroy said after the 2022 Masters. I knew I had the game to win there. It’s just a matter of having this game for four days in a row and not making big numbers and shooting yourself in the foot, I guess.”

PGA Championship

When: May 18-21, 2023
Where: Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York (East Course)
Defending Champion: Justin Thomas

Winner in 2023: Cameron Young

Young nearly finished PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors when he hit the 72nd hole at the Old Course on Sunday. This move secured him second place in solo, 1 move behind Smith.

Young is only the second player since 1958 to finish in the top three in his PGA Championship and Open debut. He tied for third in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, finishing 1 stroke behind Thomas. Collin Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park and the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s.

Young will certainly have a large part of the galleries behind him in Oak Hill. He grew up outside of New York and attended preparatory school on the Fordham campus. His father, David Young, is the longtime pro at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough-on-Hudson, New York, just north of town.

Young is yet to win on the PGA Tour, but his rookie season has been sensational. He has nine top-25 finishes in 21 starts, including six top-10 finishes and four runners-up. He also tied for second at the Sanderson Farms Championship, Genesis Invitational and Wells Fargo Championship. It’s only a matter of time before he claims his first victory.

Young is one of the longest hitters from the tee on tour. He is second in shots won off the tee (.942) and sixth in driving distance (317.6 yards). He is an improving irons player and a very good putter.

The East Oak Hill course last hosted a major tournament in 2013, when Jason Dufner beat Jim Furyk by 2 strokes. Nicklaus (1980) and Shaun Micheel (2003) have won the other PGA Championships contested there. The course underwent restoration in 2013. The project involved the removal of many trees and even a pond. There is a brand new par-3 fifth hole.

U.S. Open

When: June 15-18, 2023
Where: Los Angeles Country Club (North Course)
Defending Champion: Matt Fitzpatrick

Winner in 2023: Xander Schauffele

With Smith having won the Open at St. Andrews, Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Norway’s Viktor Hovland will head into 2023 as the best players in the world without a major championship. Schauffele won a gold medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The 28-year-old Schauele has also been quite good in the majors. He has nine top-10 finishes in majors since 2017, including two runners-up at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie and the 2019 Masters. He missed the cut at the Masters, but finished in the top 15 at the other three majors. this season.

Schauffele earned his first individual PGA Tour victory in more than three years when he won the Travelers Championship in late June. He won the Scottish Open the week before the Open, having also finished first in the JP McManus Pro-Am, a 36-hole charity event in Ireland. Schauffele also teamed with Cantlay to win the Zurich Classic, a team event in New Orleans in April.

A native of La Jolla, Calif., Schauffele would probably love nothing more than to win his first major at the first US Open played in Los Angeles in 75 years. The city has not hosted the tournament since Ben Hogan’s victory at the Riviera Country Club in 1948. The Los Angeles County Club will become the third course in Southern California to host the US Open; Riviera and Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego (2008 and 2021) are the others.

The North Course is known for its baseball glove-shaped bunkers, peninsula greens and elevated tee boxes. The Los Angeles Country Club hosted the 2017 Walker Cup. The American team that beat Great Britain and Ireland, 19-7, included Scheffler, Morikawa, Cameron Champ and Will Zalatoris.

The Open

When: July 20-23, 2023
Where: Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Merseyside, England
Defending Champion: Cameron Smith

Winner in 2023: Jon Rahm

Rahm is one of the best ball-strikers in the world, which will come in handy if the winds blow strong on the west coast of England next year.

The Royal Liverpool Golf Club, which will host The Open for the 13th time, is considered one of the toughest courses in the rotation. In 2006, when Woods won his third Claret Jug, he hit his driver only once in four rounds, instead hitting irons from the tee and mid and long irons into the greens.

Rahm landed his first major at the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines. He finished in the top 10 in each of the majors in 2021. His results in the majors weren’t as good this season, but his form was still quite good. He leads the homer in hits on the ball and shots won from the tee (1.106) and is sixth in total shots won (1.805).

Rahm has never played in an Open at Royal Liverpool. He finished tied for third at Royal St. George’s in 2021 and 11th at Royal Portrush. He would be the first Spanish player since Seve Ballesteros to win the Open and his third Claret Jug in 1988.

It will be the first time Royal Liverpool have hosted the Open since McIlroy won in 2014. There will be a brand new par-3 17th hole when played there next July.

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