7 biggest golf stories since the last Open Championship
It's been two years since the world's best golfers ventured across the pond to compete for the coveted Claret Jug, and much has changed since.
Tiger Woods was the reigning Masters champion and ranked No. 5 in the world. Dustin Johnson only had one major championship title. Bryson DeChambeau's average drive was shorter than Rickie Fowler's. And Collin Morikawa had only made five starts as a professional.
Not to mention a pandemic that halted all professional sports and changed the way the PGA TOUR now operates.
With the world slowly returning to normal and the oldest event in golf back on the schedule, here are the seven biggest golf stories since the last running of the Open Championship:
Tiger's rise and fall
Tiger has been through a lot over the past two years. When the Claret Jug was last up for grabs at Royal Portrush, he was only three starts removed from winning his fifth green jacket.
Later in 2019, Woods claimed PGA TOUR title No. 82 at the Zozo Championship in Japan to tie Sam Snead's record, then captained the U.S. team to a Presidents Cup win at Royal Melbourne while going 3-0 as a player.
But all of that was quickly forgotten once the calendar flipped to 2020. Woods' back became an issue once again, and he battled stiffness throughout an odd schedule that was flipped upside down by COVID-19. His one highlight from an otherwise forgettable year came at the PNC Championship when he got to play on TOUR alongside his son, Charlie, for the first time.
Things got worse in 2021. Tiger was involved in a serious single-vehicle accident in February that left him with multiple leg fractures and facing an indefinite absence from golf. He's since been seen walking with crutches and a cast on his right leg, but there remains no timeline for his return.
Bryson's extreme transformation
When DeChambeau last competed in an Open Championship, he was far from the player he is today.
He averaged a mere 302.5 yards off the tee in 2019, trailing the aforementioned Fowler and Charles Howell III, and he ended the season ranked 24th in strokes gained: off the tee.
Here's what he looked like at the 2019 Open:
But then DeChambeau started hitting the gym and consuming mass amounts of protein shakes, adding roughly 30 pounds to his once lanky frame:
The risky transformation quickly made him the world's longest and most dominant driver of the golf ball. DeChambeau's chase for distance has also turned him into the most compelling character in the sport and a must-watch every time he tees it up.
Since the 2019 Open, DeChambeau has claimed three PGA TOUR titles, including the 2020 U.S. Open, with all credit going to his ability to overpower golf courses and outmuscle his competition.
Brooks vs. Bryson
DeChambeau's actions on the course haven't been the only thing keeping him in the spotlight over the past two years. His WWE-style beef with Brooks Koepka had been festering since the 2019 Northern Trust, but it's suffocated the news cycle since footage surfaced of Koepka growing visibly annoyed by DeChambeau at the 2021 PGA Championship.
The friction between the two Americans started with Koepka's stance against slow play on the PGA TOUR, to which DeChambeau took offense. Bryson fired back regarding Brooks' lack of ab definition during a Twitch stream, prompting Koepka to respond by flexing his four major championship trophies.
The rivalry now comes to the forefront every time the two major winners compete in the same tournament, and it's unclear if their feud will ever disappear; Koepka appears to be having a lot of fun taking shots at DeChambeau, who's become reluctant to return fire.
DJ's Masters run
For years, it was hard to believe Johnson didn't have a major championship title. After he won the 2018 U.S. Open, it became hard to fathom how one of the world's most gifted golfers couldn't cross the finish line at a major tournament a second time.
But it all came together during one of the most dominant stretches of golf in recent memory. After the COVID-19 shutdown, Johnson won the Travelers Championship, was a runner-up at the PGA Championship, and won the Northern Trust by 11 shots. In six starts leading up to the 2020 Masters, he finished no worse than tied for sixth.
It didn't take long for Johnson to let everyone know it was his time at Augusta. Shooting an opening-round 65, he went on to set the 72-hole scoring record for a five-shot victory, which prompted a rare outpouring of emotion from the 37-year-old.
The conclusion of the 2019 Open Championship marked two full years since Jordan Spieth's last PGA TOUR victory. He was clearly in a slump, but little did we know the worst was still to come.
In the months following Royal Portrush, Spieth saw his world ranking plummet to as low as No. 92. He was left off the American Presidents Cup team for the first time since 2012 and only recorded four top-10s in 29 worldwide starts.
But he began digging himself out of the hole early in 2021, enduring several close calls before earning his first victory since 2017 at the Texas Open. Now, he enters the 2021 Open Championship as one of the betting favorites.
There's no denying the COVID-19 pandemic was - and still is - the biggest story in golf since the last running of The Open.
When the PGA TOUR officially canceled the 2020 Players Championship, the golf world was left wondering when the sport would return. The Masters was not played in April for the first time since 1946, and the 2020 Open Championship was officially canceled for the first time since World War II.
And even as nations started gaining ground in the fight against the virus, the PGA TOUR's return was far from normal. There were no fans in attendance for months, yielding a spectator-free PGA Championship and an eery setting at Augusta National. The TOUR implemented COVID-19 protocols that included consistent testing and strict safety measures on the grounds of each event.
More than a year removed from the shutdown and with most constituents on the PGA TOUR vaccinated, COVID-19 continues to affect tournaments: Many players, including reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, have been forced to withdraw from The Open because of the coronavirus.
This might be hard to believe, but Morikawa and Viktor Hovland - two multi-time winners on the PGA TOUR who rank inside the top 15 in the world - are both making their Open Championship debuts at Royal St. George's.
The two talented young stars emerged onto the scene in the middle of 2019 and have amassed six combined PGA TOUR victories. Matthew Wolff made his professional debut at the same time and also has a win under his belt.
Add in the likes of Sungjae Im, Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann, Will Zalatoris, Sam Burns, and Garrick Higgo, and the game features nine elite players - seven of whom are already winners on the PGA TOUR - aged 25 or younger.
The last two years have revealed a lot about the game of golf - including that its future is in fantastic hands.