Our man, Steve 'The Punter' Rawlings, has been spending some of his festive free time looking ahead to the 2019 major championships. Here's his look at the final major of the year - the Open Championship...
"Veterans have an exceptionally good record in this particular major and Harrington, who’s now 47, could shorten nicely from his current price of 150/1 if he enjoys a renaissance in 2019, and if the weather’s foul, but if forced to name the most attractively priced with the Sportsbook at this stage, I’d plump for Jon Rahm."
The 2019 Open Championship
Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland
For as long as I can remember there's been talk of another Open Championship being staged at Royal Portrush so it's great to finally be going back. Max Falkner won the 1951 edition on the only previous occasion that the Irish gem staged the Open and the success of that edition may have both fed the clamour for a second staging there and also prevented it for many years.
The '51 edition was the first time that the event was covered in full by the BBC and the combination of such a fabulous venue and such a flamboyant winner could only have helped the tournament to grow in stature. Falkner was famed for his style and colourful clothing and he was also said to be guilty of signing a ball on the first tee of the final round, "Max Falkner - Open Champion". Having hit the front at halfway and having led by six, victory had looked likely but having signed a ball for a young lad, adding "Open Champion" at the request of the boy's father was perhaps a little naive.
Falkner held on to win by two with a -3 total but with the Championship growing in stature, a return to Portrush looked less and less likely as the years rolled by. The Open is a massive event now with huge crowds and Portrush just didn't have the infrastructure to support the magnitude of the event.
Having last staged the Irish Open in 1947, Royal Portrush was granted the 2012 edition - won by Jamie Donaldson in 18-under-par. The tournament was seen as a success but if Portrush was to again host the biggest event of them all, changes needed to be made...
There are two courses at Royal Portrush - the Valley Course and the Championship Course, the Dunluce Course. Having been laid out originally by Old Tom Morris in 1888, and having been newly recreated by Harry Colt in 1932, the Dunluce is quite rightly seen as something of a masterpiece created by design geniuses but in order to host the Open Championship and to accommodate the vast Spectator Village, the only option available to the Portrush Committee was to place it where the 17th and 18th holes stood on the Dunluce.
That may sound like a drastic measure but it was long since felt that the 18th was a weak finishing hole and the weakest on the course. In fact, the Dunluce was often described as having 17 world class holes and the 18th. And the par five 17th was arguably straightforward enough, once you'd found the fairway and avoided the notorious 'Big Nellie' bunker off the tee.
Once the decision to sacrifice 17 and 18 was made, room was found on the outskirts of the Valley Course for the two brand new holes required. The new holes, designed by Mackenzie & Ebert, will be the seventh and eighth and a new 'Big Nellie' has been constructed alongside the seventh.
Our new par 5, 7th hole, will definitely provide a challenge in these windy conditions! #windyday #toughdayforgolf #dunluce #royalportrush #portrush #instagolf #golfstagram #stilllooksgood #theopen #theopen2019 #countdownison https://t.co/kwVqPvDLly pic.twitter.com/4yh0FRxX6m? Royal Portrush G.C. (@royalportrush) July 26, 2018
Other changes have been made to various holes (including a new green on the par five second) and all the holes following the eighth have moved their position in the round, so the infamous par three 'Calamity' which used to be the 14th is now the 16th. The hole has always been seen as a tough one and it arguably cost Argentine, Antonio Cerdá, the title in 1951. He finished runner-up to Falkner, beaten by two, but made a six at calamity in round four.
The hole has now been lengthened and it could set up an exciting finish, with a drivable par four at 17 and the Open Championship's only dog-legged finishing hole on the rota.
How the Dunluce plays in July will be highly dependant on the weather and so it's very hard to suggest anyone with confidence at this stage. The 2011 Open Champion, Darren Clarke, knows the course intimately but he's 50 now and he's lost his way completely on the links. Fellow local, Graeme McDowell, is yet to qualify, so the main Irish challenge may come from the two-time veteran winner, Padraig Harrington, and the ante-post favourite, Rory McIlroy, who famously set the course record of 61 at the age of 16!
Veterans have an exceptionally good record in this particular major and Harrington, who's now 47, could shorten nicely from his current price of 150/1 if he enjoys a renaissance in 2019, and if the weather's foul, but if forced to name the most attractively priced with the Sportsbook at this stage, I'd plump for Jon Rahm.
The big Spaniard won the Irish Open with ease in 2017, cruising to a six-stroke victory at the Portstewart Links, so we know he likes links golf and the industry wide best of 25/1 will be long gone if he starts the new year well.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter