The Open Championship returns to Northern Ireland for the first time in nearly 70 years as Royal Portrush plays host to the final major of the year. And that means it’s the last chance until football season to show your friends what a sports expert you are, or lose all your money and begin the countdown to your fantasy draft. Here’s some help to do the former.
8 Players To Watch: Current Odds in Parentheses
- Rory McIlroy (8-1) – Take a drink every time an announcer brings up the course-record 61 he shot at Portrush when he was 16. While I don’t think he (or anyone for that matter) will sniff that number, it’s worth mentioning because of his comfort with the course and the pride he takes of playing in his home country. Rory spoke in a recent podcast about how confident he is in his game. Although he has not won a major in 5 years, he leads the Tour in Top-10 finishes this year with 11. He’s also 1st on Tour this year in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and Total Strokes Gained, which are the best indicators of where a player’s overall game is. Expect him to be in the final few groups come Sunday.
- Brooks Koepka (10-1) – I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel with these first two picks. He hasn’t had a ton of success in the Open, but he’s playing at such a level that it really doesn’t matter what course we’re talking about. As if Koepka needed any additional help, his caddie, Rickie Elliot, grew up working at Portrush. His usual advantage off the tee will be negated by the shorter links course, but he’ll put a scare into anyone who dares to lead the tournament on Sunday.
- Tiger Woods (18-1) – TW nearly snatched the Claret Jug last year and he’s won 2 tournaments since then. His disappointing results at the US Open and PGA Championship are a bit concerning, but his game usually fits well on the links. The iron play this year has given himself lots of chances to shoot low scores, yet he’s struggled to convert on the green. If he can get off to a good start on Thursday and Friday and brings the putting stroke he had at Augusta in April, expect him to hang around all weekend.
- Dustin Johnson (10-1) – DJ has been wildly inconsistent at the Open Championship and has struggled since this year’s PGA Championship, but his talent bodes well on any course in the world. He has the ability to lock in on any given weekend and post a score for everyone to chase. If DJ can be accurate off the tee and stay mentally engaged, he’ll be tough to beat.
- Xander Schauffele (20-1) – He’s had some of the best major results of anyone on tour (T2, T16, T3) and has 2 non-major wins this year. While he hasn’t cleared the mental hurdle of winning a major yet, don’t be surprised if this is the weekend he does it. He is 7th on Tour in Total Strokes Gained and 13th in Strokes Gained Off-The-Tee, which will be important with the narrow landing zones we typically see in an Open. Schauffele is a fast-rising talent and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through.
- Matt Kuchar (30-1) – Kuch has silently been on a majors heater, trailing only Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Koepka in cumulative score to par in majors since the beginning of 2017. While it hasn’t led to any victories, he’s put himself in position to compete consistently. And after dealing with the infamous caddie debacle in Mexico earlier this year (which was wildly overblown), a victory this weekend would make for a great story for one of the most likable guys on tour.
- Phil Mickelson (100-1) – Lefty has made some headlines this week after announcing he lost 15 pounds in 6 days thanks to a severe fasting routine. It will be interesting to see if this hurts or helps his game, but he needed to change something after being irrelevant in the last 12 majors. Koepka went through a similar weight loss this year and followed it up with a Masters T2 and a win at Bethpage (I know, comparing apples to oranges there). At age 49, Phil only has so many chances left to win big tournaments. Here’s to a strong showing from the legend and many more fireside chats.
- Jordan Spieth (40-1) – The 2017 Champion and 54-hole leader last year has been criticized for his play and behavior on the course this year, and rightfully so. He has said he’s close to completing his swing rebuild, which could pay dividends for the rest of his career. Regardless of his recent frustrations, he is still the 38th ranked golfer in the world and is absolutely capable of finding his former touch for 4 days. Spieth’s ability around the green and natural talent always gives him a puncher’s chance on tricky links courses. However, it could make for a long offseason if these struggles continue into the fall.
Hideki Matsuyama (40-1) – One of the best pure ball strikers in the world and 5th in Total Strokes Gained on Tour this season.
Bryson DeChambeau (40-1) – After getting dunked on by Matthew Wolff two weeks ago, DeChambeau will be eager to prove his talent.
Rickie Fowler (25-1) – Best Player To Never Win a Maj- …..yeah yeah, you’ve heard it before. Maybe this is the one?
Graeme McDowell (50-1) – Another native of Northern Ireland. He grew up playing Royal Portrush as a kid and is 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting this year.
Bernd Wiesberger (80-1) – Last 3 tournaments on the European Tour? T16-T2-Win.
Water Cooler Corner
- On Friday afternoon, tell someone in your office “Hey, watch out for the winds shifting this weekend. Could make for some interesting scores!” While not making any bold predictions, you sound like a guy who’s watched a few golf tournaments across the pond.
- Don’t call it “The British Open.” Just call it The Open. You’ll sound more sophisticated and Lauren from HR will be thoroughly impressed!!
- Don’t pick Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, or Tony Finau. Everyone (myself included) has proclaimed them as sleepers for the past 3 years and they’ve been a disappointing tease. They’re no longer a sleeper if you tell the whole office about them every time a major rolls around. *One of them will probably win after I said that.*
My Winner: Rory McIlroy. I’m a sucker for a good story and him winning in front of the Northern Ireland crowd is as good as it gets. After his public struggles, both personally and on the course these past few years, I think this is the tournament where Rory reminds us how overwhelming his talent truly is. If he plays strong golf for 4 days, he can easily run away with the tournament. His peculiar relationship with Ireland and The Open could all be replaced with a memory of their native son holding The Claret Jug, illuminated by a Sunday evening Northern Irish sky.