EDDIE Pepperell predicts Royal Portrush will stage the best Open Championship of the 21st century over the next four days.

The Abingdon golfer begins his challenge at 7.41am today, in a good group alongside two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

It is only the second time the links course in Northern Ireland has staged the championship, with its other appearance in 1951.

Pepperell had not played the course before this week, but has experienced the local crowds after getting into a play-off for the Irish Open in 2015, which was staged at Royal County Down.

And they will be out in force this week, with almost 240,000 tickets sold to make it the second biggest attendance in Open history.

The 28-year-old believes the venue will quickly establish itself as a firm favourite.

He said: “I think it’s going to be probably the best Open of this century so far.

“I just don’t think people who have never been to Ireland or Northern Ireland understand just how great the fans are.

“I will never forget playing at County Down – the crowds were amazing in some terrible weather.

“I think it will be an unbelievable event.”

It is only the third time Pepperell has played in the Open Championship, but he made an impact at both previous appearances.

In 2015 at St Andrews he briefly led the tournament in the third round, before slipping back to finish in a share of 49th place.

Twelve months ago the Frilford Heath member shot the lowest score in the final round, a four-under-par 67, to leap 30 places and claim a share of sixth position at Carnoustie.

It is his best finish in eight major appearances, but Pepperell can be optimistic about challenging his personal best this week.

Having taken seven weeks off to rest a back injury so he can peak for a run of big events, the world No 35 arrives in good form.

Since returning to action, his total score is 25-under-par in two tournaments.

A joint fourth place at the Irish Open was followed last weekend with four rounds in the 60s, but in favourable conditions at the Scottish Open it was only enough to claim a tie for 43rd position.

Pepperell’s draw ensures he will have a good idea on what score is needed to make the cut tomorrow, as his second round begins at 12.42pm.