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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My "5 to Watch" at The Open

It's time to get all links-y and make my picks for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Henrik Stenson with the Claret Jug

A quick recap of the stuff you already know: Henrik Stenson is the defending champion, Padraig Harrington won the Open when it was last held at this venue, and (as usual) bad weather is expected.

With the question of who are really the top golfers in the world still up for grabs -- the group changes every week, it seems -- it can be difficult to narrow the potential winners down to a manageable number. In a futile effort to lend some logic to my choices, I've put the following restrictions on them:
  • We've seen a string of first-time major winners over the last couple of years. I think that will continue, so I'm excluding previous major winners.
  • Although The Open tends to skew older, I'm limiting my choices to players under 40.
  • And I'm not worried about whether my choices have much experience at links golf. Rather, I'm taking players I think play well in bad weather.
Those three decisions actually limit my choices quite a bit. For example, Brooks Koepka would be a favorite but he's won a major, is well under 40 and played quite a bit of links golf during his time on the ET. And I'll end up leaving Ian Poulter off, even though I think he's got a good chance this year.

So, given these limitations, let's see what kind of mischief I can brew up.
  • Let's begin with hometown favorite Tommy Fleetwood. This is a home game for him and I think that will work to his benefit. More importantly, his game is on an upswing and he's played well in bad weather.
  • Hideki Matsuyama hasn't played particularly well at The Open, but his major finishes since last year -- as well as his win record around the world -- have been extremely good. In addition, I think the slower greens could help his putting tremendously. Remember, he's won a lot on the ET, and many of those courses play slower greens.
  • Some of you may be surprised that I'm picking JB Holmes. It's true that JB hasn't had that great a record in The Open, but he was T3 in that unbelievably low scoring Open last year. JB is streaky, but he often streaks in bad weather.
  • Rickie Fowler continues to make this list because it feels as if he is oh so close. I actually think he'll have his best chance to win if the weather is bad all four days.
  • And my flier is... Brian Harman. Harman doesn't have much of a record in this event. He's only played in two -- T26 in 2014, MC in 2015. But he's played really well on tough courses lately and is coming off a T2 in wet weather at Erin Hills.
I'm going way out on a limb with this one and pick Harman to win -- although I'm not so sure this is a flimsy limb. He has played well on long courses in bad weather, and  -- with the exception of that last round at Erin Hills -- he has been remarkably accurate both off the tee and into the green. I think he could pull a major upset this week.

Bear in mind that, at least here in the US, this will be an all-nighter if you want to watch The Open live. GC's coverage begins with a late-night Morning Drive on Wednesday at midnight ET, with the coverage proper beginning at 1:30am ET.

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