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The Open: Storylines to follow at Royal Liverpool

Will Rory McIlroy finally end his major drought? Will Scottie Scheffler cap off an all-time season with a major win?

There are plenty of talking points as we head into the final major of the year, and we’ve looked at the biggest storylines to follow at The Open.

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Rory McIlroy

As seems to be the case every major, all eyes will be on Rory McIlroy, as he attempts to break his nine-year duck.

And what better place to do it than Royal Liverpool, the scene of his 2014 triumph?

After winning the 2014 Open, McIlroy won the WGC Bridgestone in his next event, and won the PGA Championship in the event after that. It seemed an impossibility that he wouldn’t win more than five over the next nine years, and he’s had three runner-up finishes and 16 more top-10s in majors.

It’s been so long that McIlroy himself said he feels like he’s trying to win his first again. 

And what a story it’d be if he could do just that.

Rickie Fowler

The ever-popular Rickie Fowler was on a downward spiral. His form had steadily declined from its peak around 2017/2018, going winless from 2019 to 2022, missing 24 cuts, and recording just five top-10 finishes.

Falling to 185th in the world, the question was whether Fowler would ever compete on the PGA TOUR again; winning tournaments was a million miles away.

But a remarkable resurgence has seen Fowler return to the winner’s circle at the Rocket Mortage Classic, return to the world’s top 25 – which will only get better – while almost securing a place on the Ryder Cup team.

But there’s still one big goal out there for the Floridian, and that’s to win the major he probably ought to have done nearly a decade ago.

In 2014, Fowler finished in the top five of all majors, twice finishing behind McIlroy, but never getting over the line.

There was no real weakness to his game then and there isn’t now, and after being runner-up at Hoylake in 2014, he’ll be desperate to go one better this time around.

Cameron Smith

This time last year, Rory McIlroy was fighting the good fight against LIV Golf, while speculation was rife that Cameron Smith would be the next big name to make the switch.

Sure enough, the pair would fight it out to be named Champion Golfer of the Year at St Andrews.

McIlroy’s long wait for a major finally looked to be coming to an end as he shared the lead with Viktor Hovland – chasing his first major – going into Sunday, four shots clear of the chasing pack.

McIlroy’s lead was intact through the front nine, going out one-under-par while Hovland was one-over-par. 

McIlroy and Smith both birdied 10, but the Aussie would birdie the next four holes while McIlroy simply couldn’t get a putt to drop, and fell one behind.

McIlroy wouldn’t make a bogey all day, but Smith made eight birdies, and McIlroy finished two back.

The question coming into this season was how the LIV golfers would fare in the majors, playing a different schedule to everyone else. But Brooks Koepka should’ve won the Masters and did win the PGA Championship, and Smith finished fourth.

Smith’s form has been good in recent weeks. Top-10s at two consecutive majors, and he hasn’t finished worse than 12th in his last six LIV events, winning the London event last week. 

It’s perfect preparation for the Australian, who’ll be well fancied to become the first person to retain the Claret Jug since Padraig Harrington in 2008.

Scottie Scheffler

At the start of the year, there was little to separate Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy.

Rahm went back-to-back in January, while McIlroy got his season off with a win in Dubai, and Scheffler joined the party in February at the Phoenix Open.

McIlroy dropped off a little, while Rahm won the Masters after Scheffler won THE PLAYERS Championship.

But the consistency Scheffler has shown in 2023 has been simply outrageous. Going back to November 2022, Scheffler’s finishes read T3-T9-2-T7-T11-1-T12-T4-1-4-T10-T11-T5-T2-T3-3-3-T4.

He’s either played 18 consecutive tournaments without an off week, or his off weeks are now so good he still finishes no worse than 12th. It’s hard to tell which is more impressive.

But, despite it being a record-breaking season in terms of prize money for the Texan, he needs a major to cap off a truly momentous year.

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