Picking a winner, sleepers to place a wager on, guys to stay away from and more ahead of the British Open Championship.
In this day and age, it’s impossible to separate any sporting event from its gambling implications. It’s simply a part of the conversation now, and golf is no different. So before the British Open, or The Open, or The Open Championship or whatever you want to call it, begins Thursday morning at Carnoustie in Scotland, we're going to do our part, make some predictions and hopefully make all of you some money in the process.
Players will be grouped into five categories: The guys I’m staying away from, the long shots worth a play, the high-value sleepers, guys I almost picked and, finally, the winner. First, for reference, here are the most current odds courtesy of Oddsshark.com.
Dustin Johnson +1200
Justin Rose +1600
Rickie Fowler +1600
Rory McIlroy +1600
Jordan Spieth +2200
Jon Rahm +2200
Tommy Fleetwood +2200
Justin Thomas +2200
Brooks Koepka +2200
Tiger Woods +2200
Henrik Stenson +2800
Sergio Garcia +2800
Alex Noren +3000
Francesco Molinari +3300
Jason Day +3300
Patrick Reed +3500
Paul Casey +4000
Tyrrell Hatton +4000
Branden Grace +4000
Marc Leishman +4500
Hideki Matsuyama +5000
Matthew Fitzpatrick +6000
Ian Poulter +6600
Phil Mickelson +6600
Russell Knox +6600
Thomas Pieters +7500
Bubba Watson +8000
Louis Oosthuizen +8000
Matt Kuchar +8000
Tony Finau +10000
Zach Johnson +10000
Thorbjorn Olesen +10000
Patrick Cantlay +10000
Emiliano Grillo +10000
Guys I’m staying away from
Rory McIlroy (+1600) — His record in British Opens is extremely strong, almost surprisingly so given his preferred high ball flight. His last three finishes: T-4 at Royal Birkdale, T-5 at Royal Troon and a win at Royal Liverpool. But Carnoustie favors a lower, left-to-right ball flight, and McIlroy has been too inconsistent this year to warrant a pick. Not buying him as the fourth favorite to win this week.
Jordan Spieth (+2200) — The defending champ isn't going to give up the title of Champion Golfer of the Year without a fight, and you know he desperately wants to put forth a good performance. That putting stroke, though, hasn't shown a willingness to return to past glory. Spieth is 175th in strokes gained putting, 129th in one-putt percentage, 136th in three-putt avoidance ... you get the picture. Show me a player struggling with the flat stick and I'll show you a guy who isn't ready to contend at major. Spieth's last four starts coming into this week: T-42 at the Travelers, missed cuts at the U.S. Open and the Memorial, T32 at Colonial. Jordan will turn it around and win in bunches again, but not quite yet.
Henrik Stenson (+2800) — The 2016 champion is dealing with a not-insignificant elbow injury. He told reporters that had it not been the Open Championship, he likely would have rested this week. “I’m not 100%,” Stenson said, per the Guardian. “I have a bit of inflammation in the arm, it has been a bit weak. I played 18 in Sweden on Saturday and didn’t feel that great when I woke up on Sunday to travel over here.” That speaks for itself.
Others I'm avoiding: Bubba Watson (+8000), Phil Mickelson (+6600), Sergio Garcia (+2800), Jason Day (+3300), Hideki Matsuyama (+5000)
Long shots worth a play
Matthew Fitzpatrick (+6000) — The Englishman is a fairway-finding machine whose preferred shot is a lower-than-average baby cut. His game would seem to fit Carnoustie very well. Also, Fitzpatrick is in the thick of the race for the final auto-qualifying spots for the European Ryder Cup team, so there’s some added motivation there. He was one shot back of the lead at last week's Scottish Open before fading a bit in the final round.
Russell Knox (+6600) — What a summer it has been for the Scotsman. He finished solo second at the French Open, then made two 50-footers in a row to win the Irish Open and was just two back of the lead at the Scottish Open before shooting four-over on Sunday. To say he's peaking at the right time is an understatment. While it’s hard to keep that kind of form up for such an extended period of time, Knox won’t be short on confidence coming into the week.
Zach Johnson (+10000) — The guy with as many majors as Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott combined won the Open at St. Andrews just three years ago. His controlled, tumbling low-ish draw tends to play well on links courses, and he has quietly put together three straight top-20s coming into this week.
Marc Leishman (+4500) — The sweet-swinging Aussie has three top-six finishes in his last four Open Championship starts. He hits a boring left-to-right shot as his default, which checks all the boxes. It has long felt like Leishman's major breakthrough is a matter of when and not if. Perhaps this week at Carnoustie is when.
Francesco Molinari (+3300) — He's arguably the hottest player on the planet, as evidenced by his last five starts: T2 at the John Deere, an eight-shot win at the Quicken Loans National, T-25 at the U.S. Open, solo second at the Italian Open and another W at the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's equivalent of the Players Championship. With that play of late, the Italian has creeped all the way to No. 15 in the world and is all but assured a spot on the European Ryder Cup team. Bet against Molinari at your own peril. He’s piping hot.
Tyrell Hatton (+4000) — He has won the last two Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, which is significant because that tournament plays one of its four rounds at Carnoustie every year. This version of ’Noustie is going to be much different from the Dunhill’s, but he’ll have a full bank of good memories to reference.
Guys I almost picked
Rickie Fowler (+1600) — He has five consecutive top-20 finishes coming into this week. He finished T-6 in the Scottish Open on Sunday. He has two top-six finishes in the Open (2011, 2014), loves to play in the wind and is one of the few guys who likes slow greens, which Carnoustie features. It wouldn't be remotely surprising if Rickie takes home major number one come Sunday afternoon.
Alex Noren (+3000) — The Swede won his last start at the French Open and finished sixth last year at the British Open. His preferred ball flight? You guessed it—that left-to-right peeler. I’d be surprised if he’s not on the first page of the leaderboard down the stretch.
Justin Rose (+1600) — The world No. 3 is a smart pick each and every week; he’s just that consistent. He plays well on big, open courses. He plays well on shorter, tight courses. He plays well on American parkland-style tracks. He plays well on by-the-ocean links tracks. He’s never, ever a bad pick, and his T-9 at last week's Scottish Open is encouraging.
Tiger Woods (+2200) — He should be able to use his driving iron stinger a ton this week and his impressive short-game arsenal will come in handy, as the pot bunkers and massive greens will demand a variety of around-the-green shots. But Tiger doesn't like slow greens, and I'm waiting to see him close out a PGA Tour event before picking him in a major.
Jon Rahm (+2200) — He simply checks off all the boxes. Lower ball flight? Check. Left-to-right stock shot? Check. Accurate driver of the ball? Check. Big-time putter? Check. Shown the ability to close out tournaments? Big, fat check. It’s no coincidence that he plays so well in Europe: his last three starts on that side of the pond are a T-4 at the Irish Open, a T-5 at the French Open and a win at the Spanish Open.
Rahm’s issue is that he has a tendency to make big numbers that take him out of contention. At the French Open, for example, he made a triple-bogey 7 on his 66th hole of the tournament and ended up two shots behind Noren’s winning total. I’m counting on him to avoid doing just that at Carnoustie this week. If and when he hits it into a pot bunker, he’ll need to take his medicine and escape with bogey at worse. Bogeys won’t kill Rahmbo because he’s going to make more than enough birdies to vault himself into contention. This will be the week the 23-year-old Spaniard avoids shooting himself in the foot and breaks the streak of five straight majors won by Americans 28-years-old or younger.