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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the Open

Defending champion Zach Johnson escorted "Miss Claret" (as he calls her) back to the R&A on Monday, so everything is in place for the start of the 145th Open at Royal Troon this week.

Open pin flag at Royal Troon

The course is wet and windy now. It's going to be wet and windy later this week. And with temperatures expected in the 50s and 60s -- that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius -- it's probably going to be a cool, windy, sloppy wet week.

Ah, yes. Typical Open weather, perhaps a bit softer than usual.

And so I have to take that into account with my picks this week. One caveat here -- I'm leaving Alex Noren off my list. It's not because I don't think he can win; I most certainly do. His play last week at the Scottish Open was awesome. But the odds say a back-to-back is unlikely, despite what Phil Mickelson did in 2013. And the logic makes sense to me, because winning on two links courses in as many weeks -- especially if the weather is rough, as it was last week -- is a huge task.

So while I wish Alex good luck, I'm not picking him this week. Alas, I have too many great players to choose from! But I've thinned it down to these five:
  • Zach Johnson isn't the longest of players. But he is one of the few players to win majors at both Augusta National and St. Andrews, both long courses. And he won those events in bad weather. ZJ is a mudder, his putting seems to be returning to form, and he had last week off so he's rested. I think he could become one of those rare players to defend an Open.
  • Likewise, Dustin Johnson makes my list. DJ also took last week off. In fact, this has been his pattern to win his last two events -- major, week off, WGC, week off -- and he has played well in nasty Opens before. Yeah, DJ makes my list.
  • Danny Lee has only played one Open; that was 2015 and he missed the cut. But I was impressed by his play at the Scottish Open last week, especially in that nasty weather they had the first two days. Instead of sitting home because he couldn't defend at the cancelled Greenbrier, he zipped over to Scotland and got that whole time change thing out of his system. I think he'll be a strong contender at Troon.
  • Matteo Manassero entered last week at 596 in the OWGR. He jumped more than 350 spots to 342 with his T3 finish at the Scottish. He's struggled since trying to add distance a couple of years ago, but he has three Top13s in his last 5 starts. And he played well during the bad weather last week -- he looked like he's back to just "see ball, hit ball, find ball, hit ball again" golf. That could serve him well this week.
  • And my flier? I debated taking Padraig Harrington because he played well last week, but I'm going waaaaaay out on a limb and taking Callum Shinkwin instead. I know, most of you have never heard of this English golfer. He's only 23, he turned pro in 2013, he's a European Tour rookie and he's never played in a major. But he also finished T9 at the Open de France and T8 last week at Castle Stuart. That's some serious golf on two outstanding courses, so he's GOT to be confident.
Picking just one of these guys is hard. But I'm taking Danny Lee to snag his first major, even though Castle Stuart should have worn him out. Nevertheless, Danny has proven to be a bit of an iron man on Tour, so I'm betting he'll buck the odds.

And Callum Shinkwin is my dark horse.

Now I'll just sit back and see who Miss Claret goes home with this year.

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