The 146th Open Championship tees off at Royal Birkdale on July 20th. In attendance will be all the best golfers on tour right now, and not Tiger Woods.
Royal Birkdale isn’t a terribly long course, a manageable 7’156 yards, but with tight fairways, frequent winds, fiendishly placed bunkers, and deeply unpleasant rough, accuracy is going to be vital. The long-bombing tee-box heroes that populate the top of the world rankings are going to find Birkdale challenging, just as they found the unforgiving rough and fescue at Erin Hills challenging.
The field has really opened up in the last few years, and while Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are still unbeatable when at the top of their games, those streaks are becoming rarer and the two are looking positively human. There’s a deep field of promising players at long odds that can take home a Claret Jug, a selection of whom we’ve previewed below.
Dustin Johnson: 8/1
Nobody has ever accused the world no. 1 of having a multifaceted or even elegant game. In almost every situation, he hits the ball really f****** far, then figures the rest out from there. This style might not suit Royal Birkdale, which tends to reward accuracy over length. DJ ranks first in every off-the-tee stat except driving accuracy, where he’s an unimpressive 158th. Furthermore, his putting has been a real let down (the flat stick probably sunk DJ’s chances of making the cut at the US Open and the Memorial) and while putting isn’t quite as important as your father wants you to think it is, you still have to do better than 182nd in total putting average if you want to win majors.
Betting Outlook: I like Dustin Johnson, but not at this course, not at this price, and not with the year he’s had. Pass.
Rory McIlroy: 10/1
The world no. 4 has been struggling with inconsistency this season, falling to 65th in the FedEx Cup rankings and missing the cut at the US Open. Tee-to-green, everything’s usually fine; Rory’s gaining almost two strokes there and 1.2 off the tee. But his putting stats have been decidedly human and he’s losing strokes in the short game. At Erin Hills, after decrying the incredible width of the fairways and complaining that anyone who couldn’t hit them should go home, Rory missed more fairways than anyone and then went home, missing the cut and eating a lot of crow in the process.
When Rory shot his (commendable) 64 on the last day at the Travelers Championship, he was on his third putter in three days.
Rory’s looking for a fresh start at the Irish Open, and he’s always been quite precious about the Claret Jug, but his form doesn’t suggest he should be favored here and these are pretty strong odds for a golf tournament.
Betting Outlook: Of the favorites, Spieth is the better matchup and at the better price.
Jordan Spieth: 11/1
Probably the best pick of the favorites, Jordan Spieth has the longest odds but has also been playing the best recently. His (sensational) win at the Travelers Championship came over an unusually deep field, one that featured Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brian Harman, and Daniel Berger. He’s also the only of the three favorites who made the cut at the US Open, with the other two struggling to make fairways and build a rhythm on a very British-style course. Spieth is accurate off the tee, one of the best putters on tour, and has a pretty good shortgame, too.
Spieth’s game has always served him well on tough courses that require accuracy, putting, and tactical nous. He’s in good form, with recent wins in big events and the rude health that comes from being, jesus, look at that: 23 years old.
Betting Outlook: If you want to bet a favorite, this is the one to pick. The tough course matches up well with his style, and he has a better price than his closest competitors.
Sergio Garcia: 16/1
The big story of 2017 was Sergio finally, finally getting that first major win at the Masters. Garcia’s 28th in driving accuracy, third in shots gained tee-to-green, and second in shots gained off the tee. Although his distance isn’t massive, this is definitely the kind of driver you’d want to bring to Royal Birkdale. His accuracy is good — he’s seventh in greens in regulation percentage — but he’s losing a lot with his putter. Garcia ranks 144th in overall putting average the second-worst on this list, ahead of only Dustin Johnson. There’s nothing stopping Garcia from winning The Open, but there’s nothing particularly compelling suggesting that he will, either.
Betting Outlook: A feel-good bet, for sure, but then why not do Rickie Fowler?
Rickie Fowler: 18/1
Ricky’s never won a major before, but two months ago, we were saying the same thing about Sergio and look how that turned out. Ricky made an impressive run at Erin Hills, where his accuracy and scrambling helped him on a tough track. It must be frustrating to play so well at the Memorial and the US Open and still not win, but the fact remains that Fowler is playing very well and is contending in big tournaments. If there’s anyone who’s ready to start winning in a big way, it’s Ricky.
Betting Outlook: Good price for a player whose first win at a major has seemed inevitable for years.
Brooks Koepka: 28/1
If he won at the US Open, he can win here, right? Well, maybe not. Koepka doesn’t have the kind of stats you’d want to bet on: he’s long off the tee but not super long, and not particularly efficient; he’s a middling putter and approach player, and he’s in the forties for total shots gained. There’s nothing in Koepka’s statistical profile that you can point to as proof that he’ll win The Open, and while you can’t take away anything from his US Open victory, that was a tournament with an anomalous leaderboard that we shouldn’t try to draw too many conclusions from.
Betting Outlook: The real interesting bet here is the over/under on how many times TV broadcasters mention his friendship with Dustin Johnson, with any line below 27.5 being a steal for the over.
Phil Mickelson: 35/1
Lefty skipped the US Open, but he’s back for The Open, a tournament he won in 2013 and his most recent major. In his recovery from injuries and a number of surgeries in the offseason, Phil’s been in contention a few times, but he hasn’t had the pre-Open form he had in 2013 or the short-game magic he’s brought to his previous major wins. He definitely scored some karma points by withdrawing from the US Open to attend his daughter’s graduation, but he’ll need an awful lot of them to win at Royal Birkdale.
Betting Outlook: At 35/1, you’re not going to find many five-time major winners, but I promise you there is nothing more excruciating than watching Phil Mickelson run into and out of contention when you’ve got money on him. I’ll pass, but only because of deep scars from the 2013 US Open.