Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, the SMBC Singapore Open champion, could break into the world’s top 50 with a good showing in The Open at Royal Portrush this week.
Jazz has enjoyed a breakout year with his victory at Sentosa Golf Club followed by a series of top-five finishes on the Japan Tour and a win at the Kolon Korea Open.
Those displays have seen him rocket to 53rd in the world and he is on the cusp of a spot amongst the leading 50 players which comes with it automatic entry to Majors and WGC events.
The 23-year-old Jazz played The Open for the first time at Carnoustie last year – a reward for claiming joint fourth place behind winner Sergio Garcia at the 2018 SMBC Singapore Open – and will tee it up for the first round on Thursday (1.15pm local time alongside Americans Billy Horschel and Aaron Wise) as a more complete and confident player.
“Last year I did not know what to expect, it was my first Major, I was just a kid out there,” said Jazz.
“This year I will still be a kid…just 23…I am really happy to get back. I look forward to playing The Open the most (of all the tournaments) in my year, for sure.”
The world’s oldest Major is being played at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951 – when Max Faulkner won – and it has been toughened up and lengthened to 7,344 yards for the arrival of the world’s best players.
Four spots were available in the The Open from the SMBC Singapore Open with runner up Yoshinori Fujimoto of Japan, Prom Meesawat of Thailand and Korea’s Doyeob Mun, who tied for fifth place, joining Jazz in the field.
England’s Paul Casey and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who finished ahead of Prom and Mun, were both already exempt for The Open.
Sentimental favourite for the title will undoubtedly be home hero Rory McIlroy who grew up in Northern Ireland and has played the course tens of times.
He knows he can go low on the layout having shot a course record 11-under-par 61 during the North of Ireland Amateur Open in 2005 when he was just 16.
The course will play to a par of 71 for the 148th Open with two replacement holes upping the yardage.
Vying with McIlroy for attention will be Tiger Woods, who counts three victories at The Open amongst his 15 Major wins, the last of which came at this year’s Masters.
His Lazarus-like recovery from crippled star to Augusta champion for the fifth time breathed new life into golf and guaranteed that the focus of sports fans will be on Royal Portush this week.
Woods’ amazing comeback has somewhat overshadowed the remarkable Major run of American Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA Championship and was runner-up at both the Masters and the US Open this year.
The world number one is expected to be in the mix come Sunday along with countryman Dustin Johnson, England’s Justin Rose, 2018 winner Francesco Molinari of Italy and the in-form Spaniard Jon Rahm.
Garcia and three-time Singapore Open champion Adam Scott of Australia could also figure in the top half of the leaderboard.
Whatever the outcome, Royal Portrush – like 2019 US Open venue Pebble Beach – will surely be a winner for its scenic beauty and unmistakable allure.