The drama will soon unfold at one of the best Links courses in the world! The Open Championship is back at Royal Birkdale in 2017 where Padraig Harrington won back to back Claret Jugs in 2008. It’s been over 30 years since a player who has not played any tournaments between the US Open and The Open Championship has won telling us players better come in tried, tested, and sharp. After Henrik Stenson’s record breaking win last year all eyes are on the defending Champ but he has yet to win another tournament since becoming the first Swede to win The Open.
Stenson also makes up a crew of the past seven Major Championship Winners having been first-time winners. Will that trend continue? I doubt it. The Open is unlike any other Major Championship. Strategy and knowledge far outweigh any other skill set a golfer can possess when visiting the British Isles.
Age can be your friend during The Open as experience is a major advantage in this tournament. The majority of Champions have been in their thirties. But don’t count out the Young Guns. History has shown golfers in their twenties can overcome the course challenges and pull out victories.
Tiger was 24 when he won his first Open and was in the midst of doing something no other golfer in the history of the game had done – hold all four Majors at the same time. Rory McIlroy was 25 when he won The Open. That also made him the third youngest player to win three different Majors behind Jack and Tiger. These two are obviously special exceptions and will probably go down in history as two of the best golfers of all-time.
Aside from them and a few other outliers such as Ben Curtis in 2004 (who was 26 and ranked 396th in the world) and Paul Lawrie in 1999, most Open Champions have been Tour Veterans. Phil Mickelson at 47 years old would be the oldest Open Champion if he wins this year. The windy conditions favor players who can power the ball through the gusts while keeping it low, something young, strong golfers excel at. You also need great drawing and fading ability as the crosswinds will make you use every shot in your arsenal. An exceptional short game is a must as many greens will be missed due to strong gales. Most younger players have not mastered these important shots quite yet which is why youth is not necessarily your friend during The Open. The window is tight to win in the British Isles and everyone knows the challenge that awaits them.
The strategy of each golfer is priceless on a course like this. Hence Lefty making the decision to keep his driver in the clubhouse while adding a 64 degree wedge. The forecast calls for strong winds all weekend changing directions regularly which makes me think the final score will be pretty close to par. I’m calling the Champion to shoot just 2 under, 278 total. Harrington won here at Royal Birkdale with a final score of +3 back in 2008. No other Open Champion since then has shot above par.
If a First Time Major Champion is to be crowned this weekend, here are the most likely players to do so:
- Hideki Matsuyama – this kid has serious game, especially short game. He has finished T4, T11, and T2 his last three Majors. But you can’t compare the Open to any other Majors, it’s its own animal. We will see if he can conquer the weather as he has yet to prove he can in his short yet prosperous career.
- Matt Kuchar – Kuch just finished T4 at the Scottish Open last weekend. He’s the No. 18 golfer in the World and has finished no worse than T16 in his last five starts. He’s as consistent as any player on Tour. But consistency doesn’t win Majors. Aggression does.
- Jon Rahm – Rahm demolished the field at the Irish Open two weeks ago. He is the only player to be ranked in the Top 10 on all three major ranking systems – No. 3 on European Tour, No. 5 in Fedex Cup, and No. 7 OWGR (Official World Golf Rankings). Open experience is the only thing holding him back.
- Rickie Fowler – everyone knows it’s not a matter of if but when Rickie will win his first Major. Six out of the last seven Open Champs have played in the Scottish Open. Rickie was T9 last week.
While these guys all have a shot at winning their first Major, my money is on these players as they make up my Final Four:
- Jordan Spieth – Spieth’s game is built for Royal Birkdale. Distance is not as important as short game and Jordan is one of the best putters on the planet. With two wins this year and Top 4 in both Fedex Cup and OWGR, he is ready for his first Open Championship.
- Sergio Garcia – Sergio has finished T5, T6, and T2 the past three Opens. Winning this year’s Masters got that “Major Monkey” off his back. He is a lock to finish Top 10.
- Phil Mickelson – If it weren’t for Henrik Stenson’s record round of 63 in last year’s Open, Phil would have two Claret Jugs to polish on his mantle. Lefty hasn’t missed a cut all year and has just as much Open experience as anyone in the field. Even without Bones on his bag he will make a run at another Major.
- Steve Stricker – Strick has been playing some great golf under the radar this year. He was T5 last week at the John Deere Classic and was T16 at both the US Open and the Masters. He also finished 4th at last year’s Open.
- Paddy Harrington – Knows the course and weather as the last winner at Royal Birkdale in 2008 giving him back to back Open Championships. Also T4 last week at the Scottish Open.
- Adam Scott – before last year’s T43, this Aussie had four straight top-10s at the Open from 2012-15. Not playing since the US Open worries me though.
- Ross Fisher – probably the best player you have never heard of. This Englishman is playing a home course and is currently ranked 7th on the European Tour. 35th at Scottish Open last week.
- Ian Poulter – An Englishman has not won the Open since 1992 when Sir Nick Faldo secured his spot as the greatest British player of his generation. That drought may come to an end if Poulter’s putter gets hot as he has a T2 in The Players this year and carried the lead on Saturday last week at the Scottish Open.
Sleepers: Shane Lowry, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, Anirban Lahiri, Charles Howell III, Brian Harman.
Many “experts” are putting Tommy Fleetwood at the top of their potential winner list, including the Oddsmakers as he is currently 20-1. But he has never even made the cut at The Open. He’s 0 for 3! Granted, he is playing better golf this year than any other time of his life and is very familiar with his Native course but until you can show me you can make a cut at a Tournament, I put you on the outside looking in.
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