2. ⛳️ For Rory McIlroy, this week is about more than golf
Throughout the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast, "a grotesque tangle of concrete, steel, metal, brick and barbed-wire fencing" separates neighborhoods, writes ESPN's Ian O'Connor.
- These walls serve as a reminder of the tension that still exists between the "unionist and loyalist Protestant majority and the republican and nationalist Catholic minority in support of a unified Ireland."
Why it matters: "Until the walls come down — and there is no plan for their removal — the youth of Northern Ireland need role models who refuse to be defined by the beliefs or causes that segregate them," O'Connor writes.
- This is why Rory McIlroy — who has refused to pick sides publicly and has handled an impossible situation with grace — had already won this week's tournament before he even showed up.
The bottom line: The 148th Open Championship is arguably the biggest sporting event Northern Ireland has ever seen, and the hometown kid — now a 30-year-old man — will be playing for much more than himself.
More players to watch:
- Brooks Koepka: It's a major, so you know Brooks is ready to roll. A possible advantage this week: His caddie grew up in Portrush and knows the course better than just about anybody.
- Tiger Woods: Good news: He's done well on major courses he's never played before (four wins, including the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool) … Bad news: Lower temperatures, like those expected this week, have left his back "achy" this year.
- Jon Rahm: The 24-year-old Spaniard is winning at a historic rate (only Tiger boasts a higher win rate over the first two seasons of his career) … but he's yet to win a major.
- Dustin Johnson: According to EAGLE, the Economist's statistical prediction system, Johnson is the favorite (7.4% chance to win).
⚡️ Update: McIlroy got off to a rough start, recording a quadruple bogey on the first hole.