Who can and cannot win The Open at St. Andrews

4:40 AM ET

  • Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer


    • Senior college football writer
    • Author of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The Open celebrates its 150th anniversary at the home of golf this week, and its homecoming at St. Andrews couldn’t have come at a better time for the game.

With LIV Golf threatening to splinter the professional tours even more, the drama takes a back seat, at least for a week, to the Old Course, Old Tom Morris, Tiger Woods and the Road Hole.

“I love it here, it’s incredible,” two-time major winner Justin Thomas said. “It’s very special. It’s unique. It is the most true links Open I have ever played. It’s such a fun place.”

While much of the attention this week will focus on three-time Open winner Woods, who is playing in just his third official event of the season, he isn’t expected to be much of a contender to win another Claret Jug.

Here are the players to watch, from the guys who can win to amateurs, at St. Andrews this week:

Jump to a section:
Guys who can win | If everything goes right | Miracles happen
| Happy to make the cut |

Tier I: The guys who can win

Here are the legitimate contenders to win the The Open. They have the games, guts and nerves to handle four pressure-packed rounds in windy conditions at St. Andrews.

Rory McIlroy
The champion of the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, McIlroy piled on three straight top 5s after winning. He finished in the top 10 in each of the three majors this season.

Xander Schauffele
Schauffele is the hottest player on the planet, having won the Travelers Championship in June and last week’s Scottish Open (he also picked up last week’s JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland). Might he finally win his first major?

Will Zalatoris
It’s only a matter of time before Zalatoris claims his first victory after so many near-misses. Few players have been better in majors the past two seasons. His superior ballstriking will be a premium in windy Scotland.

Scottie Scheffler
The world No. 1, who won four times in two months earlier this season, hasn’t finished first in three months. He’s still playing like one of the best in the world and tied for eighth in his first start in The Open last year. One concern: Scheffler has never played St. Andrews before this week’s practice rounds.

Jon Rahm
Rahm has learned to excel on links-style courses, as evidenced by two victories at the Irish Open. According to Justin Ray of Twenty First Group, Rahm has the most strokes gained (2.19) on coastal courses on the British Isles among players with at least 10 rounds since 2019.

Jordan Spieth
Spieth, the 2017 Open champion at Royal Birkdale, finished in the top 10 in half of his eight starts. He was solo second last year, two strokes behind Collin Morikawa, and solo fourth at St. Andrews in 2015, when he narrowly missed a playoff.

Collin Morikawa
Morikawa is the defending champion, after winning The Open in his first start in the event at Royal St. George’s in 2021. He had four rounds in the 60s, and his total of 15-under was a record for 15 Opens at the course.

Matt Fitzpatrick
The Englishman won his first major at the U.S. Open last month and his ballstriking has been exceptional. His best finish at The Open was a tie for 20th at Royal Portrush in 2019, and he says the Old Course isn’t his favorite course.

Shane Lowry
The Irishman won the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, the first time the tournament had been played on Irish soil since 1951. He might have been the happiest man ever to lift a Claret Jug.

Sam Burns
Burns’ stellar putting and iron play will travel anywhere, and it’s time for him to become a true contender in majors. He tied for 20th at the PGA Championship and 27th at the U.S. Open, his best finishes in majors.

Tony Finau
Finau’s form hasn’t been great this season, but he has four top-25 finishes in five starts at The Open, including a solo third in 2019.

Adam Scott
The Australian will be playing in his 85th consecutive major, the longest streak of any active player. The next-closest streak belongs to Rose (47). Jack Nicklaus owns the record with 146 straight starts in majors from 1962 to 1998.

Tommy Fleetwood
Fleetwood, from England, was solo second at the 2019 Open Championship, six shots behind Lowry. Only Rahm and Finau have gained more strokes on links style courses since 2019, according to Ray.

Patrick Cantlay
The reigning FedEx Cup champion tied for 14th at the U.S. Open, after tying for 39th at the Masters and missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Brooks Koepka
Koepka’s game and health haven’t been great lately, but he finished in the top 10 in four of his past five starts at The Open.

Viktor Hovland
Hovland is ranked eighth in the world, but hasn’t had a top-10 finish since The Players in mid-March and hasn’t had a top-20 since the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks later. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open and the Scottish Open.

Dustin Johnson
The former world No. 1 golfer’s last victory in an official tour event came more than 600 days ago, at the 2020 Masters that was played in November because of COVID-19. He won the Saudi International in February 2021.

Justin Thomas
The two-time major champion has been great in the U.S., but has finished in the top 40 in only one of his past five starts in The Open. He withdrew from the Travelers Championship to treat and rest a back injury, but played in Ireland last week and has looked fine at St. Andrews.

Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama’s season has been derailed by injuries, but he got back on track with a solo fourth at the U.S. Open. He has one top 10 in seven starts at The Open.

Tyrrell Hatton
The hot-tempered Englishman tied for sixth at Royal Portrush in 2019 and tied for fifth at Royal Troon in 2016.

Cameron Smith
As good as Smith has been this season, he doesn’t have a great track record in The Open. His best finish in four previous starts was a tie for 20th in 2019.

Louis Oosthuizen
Oosthuizen became the second South African to win The Open at St. Andrews in 2010 and nearly added a second Claret Jug here in 2015, when he lost to Zach Johnson in a playoff. He tied for third last year.

Justin Rose
Rose has won the Scottish Open and tied for second at The Open, so he knows his way around a links course. He tied for 13th at the PGA Championship and fourth at the RBC Canadian Open, evidence that he’s tracking in the right direction.

Tier II: If everything goes right

Here are the sleeper candidates to lift the Claret Jug. The list includes former major champions, rising stars and other players whose games have been works in progress so far this season. Will it all come together this week?

Joaquin Niemann
Niemann, 23, has already won twice on the PGA Tour and is ranked 17th in the world. He hasn’t had great success at The Open, however, tying for 59th in 2021 and missing the cut in 2019.

Max Homa
He tied for 40th in his first start in The Open in 2021. And he’s still winning on Twitter.

SCOTLAND BOUND! Never been and I can’t wait for the next couple weeks. Finished my Rosetta Stone and practiced eating eggs without cooking them at all. I’m ready to rock #golf

— max homa (@maxhoma23) July 3, 2022

Kevin Kisner
A runner-up at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Kisner played his final round at The Open in 2021 in two and a half hours. He won’t have to hit it as far off the tee at St. Andrews, so he might be a legitimate contender if his putter is hot.

Robert MacIntyre
MacIntyre, from Scotland, is going to be a gallery favorite this week. He has two top-10 finishes in as many starts in The Open.

Billy Horschel
An angry Billy is the best Billy. Whether it’s throwing his clubs or ripping PGA Tour players who defected to LIV Golf, you never have to wonder what the former Florida star is thinking.

Seamus Power
Power, from Ireland, was ranked in the top 10 in the world in racquetball at ages 11-12. He competed in the World Racquetball Championship.

Patrick Reed
Raise your hand if you’ve been blocked by Reed on Twitter.

Sungjae Im
Im, from South Korea, dropped out of the 2021 Open Championship to focus on the Tokyo Olympics. He tied for 22nd. A gold medal would have earned him an exemption from a mandatory two-year service in the military.

Cameron Young
The PGA Tour rookie is one of the longest hitters on tour. He had mixed results in his first three starts in majors this season, missing the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open and tying for third at the PGA Championship.

Marc Leishman
The Australian’s best chance at a major championship came at St. Andrews in 2015, when he lost in a three-man playoff to Zach Johnson. Leishman’s first tee shot of the playoff landed in a divot, which led to a bogey.

Abraham Ancer
The former Oklahoma star finished 11th in his first LIV Golf event at Pumpkin Ridge.

Bryson DeChambeau
DeChambeau finished 10th in his first LIV start at Pumpkin Ridge. He hasn’t finished better than a tie for 33rd in four previous starts at The Open.

Brian Harman
Harman tied for 19th at the 2021 Open, his first top-25 finish in six starts in the event.

Victor Perez
Perez, who was raised in France and lives in Dundee, Scotland, won the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews.

Mackenzie Hughes
Hughes, from Canada, had four rounds in the 60s and tied for sixth in his Open Championship debut in 2021.

Mito Pereira
Pereira, who tied for third at the PGA Championship after a collapse on the 72nd hole, will be making his first start in The Open.

Harris English
The former Georgia star, only four months removed from hip surgery, tied for 19th at the Travelers Championship.

Talor Gooch
If Gooch thought the atmosphere at the LIV Golf event at Pumpkin Ridge felt like a Ryder Cup, they better have oxygen ready for him at St. Andrews.

Corey Conners
The Canadian tied for 15th at Royal St. George’s in 2021, after recording sub-70 scores in each of the first three rounds.

Webb Simpson
Simpson has slipped to No. 63 in the world, but finished in the top 20 in two of the past three Open Championships.

Paul Casey
Casey’s last top 10 at The Open came in 2010. He hasn’t played in more than three months because of a back injury.

Thomas Pieters
The former Illinois star has won six times in Europe

Francesco Molinari
Molinari was one of the few men to stare down Tiger Woods and beat him in a major, winning at Carnoustie in 2018 when he had a bogey-free 69 in the final round.

Russell Henley
His best finish in The Open came at St. Andrews, where he tied for 20th in 2015. He fired a 6-under 66 in the second round that year.

Gary Woodland
The 2019 U.S. Open champion hasn’t had as much success in Great Britain. His best finish was a tie for 12th at Royal Troon in 2016.

Lee Westwood
Westwood, 49, will be seeking his first major championship victory in his 91st start in one. He tied for fourth at Royal Portrush in 2019.

Zach Johnson
The future U.S. Ryder Cup captain has eight top-25s at The Open, including a victory at the Old Course in 2015.

Dylan Frittelli
Frittelli, who is from South Africa and played at Texas, was solo fifth at The Open in 2021. He started the week as the 11th alternate, but made the field when Louis de Jeger had a positive COVID-19 test.

J.T. Poston
Poston, who will be making his first start in The Open, picked up his second tour victory with a wire-to-wire win at the John Deere Classic.

Erik van Rooyen
He had two top-20s in his first two starts at The Open, before missing the cut at Royal St. George’s last year.

Danny Willett
The 2016 Masters champion has tied for sixth in two Open Championships.

Tier III: Hey, miracles happen



Tiger Woods plays 18 holes at St. Andrews on Sunday in hopes of making a return to The Open.

They are the long shots. This tier includes aging former champions, players still searching for their form and some first-timers.

Tiger Woods
Woods’ first two starts in majors this season showed that the 15-time major champion still has a long way to go in his recovery from serious injuries to his right leg. That being said, he has won twice at the Old Course, in 2000 and 2005, and says it’s his favorite course in the world.

Henrik Stenson
The future European Ryder Cup captain’s better days are behind him. He won The Open at Royal Troon in 2016 and missed the cut last year.

Stewart Cink
The 2009 Open Championship winner hasn’t finished in the top 20 since beating Tom Watson in a four-hole playoff.

Phil Mickelson
He became golf’s oldest major champion at the 2021 PGA Championship. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open and wasn’t very competitive in two LIV Golf events.

Keegan Bradley

Sergio Garcia
About the only thing falling faster than Garcia’s performance in majors — he has missed the cut in 12 of his past 17 starts — is his reputation among fellow players.

Richard Bland
Bland, a 49-year-old Englishman, tied for 22nd at The Open in 2017, his highest finish in a major.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Ryan Fox
Jamie Donaldson

Emiliano Grillo
Grillo, from Argentina, tied for 12th at Royal St. George’s last year, tying for his best finish at The Open.

Justin Harding
Garrick Higgo
Tom Hoge
Chris Kirk
Jason Kokrak
K.H. Lee
Si Woo Kim
Kurt Kitayama
Luke List

Guido Migliozzi
Migliozzi, from Italy, has a pair of top-15 finishes in as many starts at the U.S. Open. He was the first client signed by One Direction star Niall Horan’s golf management company.

Keith Mitchell
Kevin Na

Ian Poulter
Poulter, who signed with LIV Golf, battled the DP World Tour in court for a stay to compete in the Scottish Open. He tied for 26th in last year’s Open Championship.

Jordan Smith
Smith, from England, won a new car for his caddie and himself with a hole-in-one in last week’s Scottish Open.

Cameron Tringale
Harold Varner III
Bernd Wiesberger
Aaron Wise
Sebastian Munoz

Tier IV: Happy to make the cut

They aren’t expected to be among the contenders unless something magical happens at the Old Course.

Marcus Armitage
Adri Arnaus
Alexander Bjork
Dean Burmester
Mark Calcavecchia
Ben Campbell

David Carey
Carey, from Ireland, carded an 11-under 57 during the Cervino Open on the Alps Tour in May 2019. It is believed to be the lowest score recorded in tournament golf.

John Catlin

Ashley Chesters
Chesters, the first two-time winner of the European Amateur, tied for 12th at the 2015 Open at St. Andrews as an amateur.

Mingyu Cho
Wyndham Clark
Darren Clarke

John Daly
Daly became the Champion Golfer of the Year when he defeated Constantino Rocca in a playoff at St. Andrews in 1995. He joined Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson as the only Americans to win two majors before age 30 in the post-war era.

Justin De Los Santos
Thomas Detry
Robert Dinwiddie
Stephen Dodd
David Duval

Ernie Els
Ten years ago, Els won his fourth major and second Claret Jug when he defeated Adam Scott by one stroke at Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club.

Oliver Farr
His father, Graham Farr, played in The Open in 1990 and 1993. His father was on his bag when he qualified for his first appearance.

Jorge Fernandez-Valdes

Jack Floydd
Floydd, who played at James Madison, qualified for his first Open Championship through a five-man playoff for four sports. He is ranked 1,346th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Matt Ford
Matthew Griffin

Padraig Harrington
A back-to-back winner of The Open in 2007 and ’08, Harrington missed the cut in three of his last four starts.

Lucas Herbert
Kazuki Higa
Nicolai Hojgaard
Sam Horsfield
Shugo Imahira
Matthew Jordan
Sadom Kaewkanjana
Yuto Katsuragawa
Takumi Kanaya
Brad Kennedy
Chan Kim
Minkyu Kim
Joohyung Kim
Sihwan Kim
Pablo Larrazabal
David Law
Thriston Lawrence
Paul Lawrie
Min Woo Lee

Haotong Li

Five years ago, Li shot 63 in the final round and unexpectedly finished solo third in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. It was the best performance in a major by a Chinese man. He nearly gave up the sport after falling outside the top 450 in the world in 2021, but rallied to win the BMW International Open in June to end a four-year victory drought.

Zander Lombard

Richard Mansell
After qualifying for The Open for the second straight year, Mansell said this one will mean more because Tiger Woods is in the field. “He’s kind of said that he’s going to be at St Andrews, so even just to do that, you’re hopeful you’re just in the same event as your hero,” Mansell said.

Trey Mullinax

The former Alabama star will make his first start at The Open after picking up his first PGA Tour victory at the Barbasol Championship on Sunday.

Adrian Meronk
Jediah Morgan
Ronan Mullarney
Shaun Norris
Dimitrios Papadatos
John Parry
Marco Penge
Anthony Quayle
Jamie Rutherford
Jason Scrivener
Lars van Meijel
Sepp Straka
Sahith Theegala
Brandon Wu

Scott Vincent
Vincent, who is from Zimbabwe and lives in Denver, has won three times on the Japan Tour in the past year. It will be his first start in a major.

Alex Wrigley
His wife, Ladies European Tour player Johanna Gustavsson, will probably qualify for the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield on Aug. 4 to 7.

Fabrizio Zanotti

Tier V: Amateurs

Here are the amateur players who will attempt to do what stars such as McIlroy, Rose, Woods and so many others did at The Open before turning pro — winning a silver medal as the low amateur.

Sam Bairstow

Barclay Brown
Brown, a rising senior at Stanford, grew up in South Yorkshire, England. Brown and Bairstow were the only amateurs to make the field through qualifying.

Filippo Celli
Celli, who plays at TCU, became the third Italian winner in eight years when he captured the European Amateur Championship in June.

Aaron Jarvis
Jarvis won the Latin America Amateur Championship in the Dominican Republic in January, which punched his ticket to The Open.

Keita Nakajima

Aldrich Potgieter
The South African became the second youngest British Amateur champion when he won for the first time on a links course in June, at age 17. He attends the Louis Oosthuizen Junior Golf Academy.