The Open Championship
Defending Champ: Phil Mickelson
Like at every Open Championship, the weather is going to be a significant factor. Over the next week, you’ll hear, “Tiger Woods won in 2006 only hitting driver once,” or some variation of that factoid upwards of 68592135489 times. Now, it’s true (it’s true); but that year, Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) played dryer than a Salt Lake City board game night. This year’s forecast appears to indicate the layout will be slightly softer. While the reliability of any weather projection is capricious at best, if the fairways aren’t as hard as concrete this time around, you’ll be seeing players turning to their big sticks more regularly… from the tee box. Precision with long irons will eternally be a key factor at any links course. Principally, because lower ball flights can mitigate the havoc wind can wreak. Extreme gusts are unpredictable enough inland, but situated on the Irish Sea, Hoylake could instantly morph into the set ofTwister with little warning. For my Fantasy roster I’m focusing heavily on long iron proximity from 225-plus yards, ability to adjust to tumultuary playing conditions and putting efficiency from 25-feet and beyond – you know, because of those standard Open greens that are the same size as Neptune’s surface. (Note: Measurements an approximation).
The Major window may never be more open for Henrik Stenson than this moment. Since Shang Tsunging into Tiger last fall, the Swede has merely been milling about, lingering on the front pages of leaderboards all year. It’s mid-July and the world’s No. 2 player has yet to need the assistance of his personal novelty check casher. My heart bleeds. Seriously, it sucks not winning. Everyone knows that. Still, Stenson persists as a viable contender almost every single week – especially lately. His recent results entering The Open Championship resemble the precursor to his run of three wins in seven starts to close 2013, all of which came in talent laced fields in both the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Race to Dubai; Stenson became the first player to win the PGA & the European Tour’s season championship in the same season. The lead up to his breakthrough triumph at the Deutsche Bank Championship? T10, T3, 2nd, T2, 3rd and T43 – five Top 10s (with four Top 3s) in six events. His six events entering Thursday? T2, T4, 5th, T7, T34 and T5 – five Top 10s (with four Top 5s). Coincidental? Potentially, but clearly his game is at an elite level right now. Stenson’s recent run in Majors shouldn’t be overlooked either; he hasn’t missed a cut since catching a late Friday flight out of Augusta (well, probably Atlanta) in 2011, having three Top 4s to his credit the past 12 months. The one let down: a T14 at The Masters in April. The fact that a tie for 14th in the year’s strongest field is actually considered a legitimate let down speaks to how incredibly consistent Stenson is when he has his swing working. It’s probably the smoothest in golf. Couple his sterling results with the eighth ranked ball striking and second ranked stroke with the flat stick from 25-feet on out, and you have the most likely candidate to hoist the Claret Jug.
Not only is Stenson my pick to win, but he’s a terrific contrarian Fantasy selection with the majority of gamers likely to be siding with Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods among the favorites. All are good bets, even Tiger, but taking the least chosen from a group of players with around equal odds is the best Fantasy approach. It will yield the most value in the standings if Stenson wins.
PAT MAYO HOUR – Open Championship Betting Preview
HIT THE LINKS
Here’s how everyone ended up in the field at Royal Liverpool.
I don’t except Mickelson to be factor come Sunday, but if his backwards lob off a sand dune in his practice round is any indication, he’ll likely have the most insane shot of the tournament.
Tiger doesn’t really crush the competition anymore, but, sartorially, he still dominates. Tiger’s wardrobe features a red sweater in favor of his usual grey pullover for the 154th Open Championship.
Nine things you need to know about Hoylake.
There’s a strong possibility of a bin collector and street sweeper strike just off the grounds during The Open. I thought Union Buster, Margaret Thatcher took care of this problem in the ‘80s?
If you want a legit sleeper, one that 99-percent of the of the world hasn’t heard of, go with the world’s 47th ranked player, Fin Mikko Ilonen. He won the 2000 amateur on this site and posted a T16 at the 2006 Open, and he’s a much better player now than he was eight years ago. He’s plenty familiar with links courses, entering fresh off a T16 over the weekend at the Scottish Open and a win in Ireland three weeks ago. At 80/1, I’m definitely getting some action on him.
Tiger talked about his “growing” confidence after playing a practice round with Patrick Reed. Makes sense, my guy Reed definitely has enough to share.
Who knew George Clooney loved golf so much? Apparently, Cloontang has been spotted catching a bite with Britain’s Bad Boy, Robbie Williams. They had the crispy duck, and probably listened to “Millennium” on repeat. At least I would be.
Dustin Johnson may have Paulina Gretzky on his arm, but his sweater vest combo doesn’t exactly scream “nightclub”.
Henrik Stenson & Rickie Fowler – I’ll fade the heavy favorites again and roll with Fowler in the Yahoo! “A-List.” He immediately struggled following his T5 at Augusta, missing the cut in three of five events, never finishing better than T38. However, he’s rebounded nicely in his past two outings, earning a second place payday at the US Open and a T8 last week in Scotland. His name keeps popping up in these strong field events. Along with the two Top 5s in Majors, he took home bronze at the Match Play in February. Fowler’s a riskier selection because of his blow up potential, but it’s a calculated risk. He possesses considerable upside paired with the safety of Stenson. His creative shot making from putrid lies and affinity for links play make him an outside contender.
Rory McIlroy & Angel Cabrera – I’m a sucker for Rory. For good reason: He’s already a two-time Major winner and owner of a staggering amount of SWAG on best golfer on the planet at making birdies on Par 4s and long range putting. The only issue? He’s a time bomb. Rory’s never scared to lose his swing for rounds at a time and triple bogey his way out of contention. It’s been magnified this year with five-stroke gap between his first and second round scoring. Still, if you ask me who’s the most likely candidate to blow out the field, ala Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst, it’s Rory. Although, if you start him Thursday and bench him Friday, regardless of his opening round score, I won’t blame you. Never overlook the savvy vets at any Open Championship. The last three winners (Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Mickelson) were all in their 40s, and from that age group, no one’s presently playing better than Cabrera. He emerged victorious at The Greenbrier to kick off the month, finished seventh when the Open was contested at Hoylake in 2006 and remains one of the longest drivers and premiere distance putters on Tour at age 44 – 16th DDis & 14th >25-foot putting. He already has two Majors (2007 US Open, 2009 Masters) and a secret weapon to remain relaxed in stressful situations…
— Patrick Mayo (@ThePME) July 14, 2014
Zach Johnson & Dustin Johnson – As usual, ZJ makes his trek to from America to Wee America fresh off a profitable performance at the John Deere Classic. This year, Johnson replicated his runner up from 2012, making it a win, two seconds and a third the last four years, and it’s success that’s been easily shipped with him overseas. I’m guessing FedEx makes it simple. ZJ’s returned home with T6, T9 and T16 finishes since 2011. The sixth ranked driving accuracy keeps ZJ out of the fescue, and his ability to generate a high volume of greens in regulation and avoid three-putts always keeps him at par or better. Like Dustin, Zach’s reliability in Majors, specifically at Open Championships, make them a safer duo than Justin Rose and Kaymer, who have historically produced middling results at Europe’s largest event.
Graeme McDowell & Brendon Todd – McDowell fled the continent after a solid, yet disappointing T28 at the US Open, lacing up in Ireland the next week, pumping out a T6. Fast forward 14 days, and he guillotined the field at the France Open for the second straight year – GMAC XVI!!!! He’s playing his best golf in a year and does have experience on the layout. As a relative unknown in 2006, McDowell led after the opening round with a course record 66. As a superior player in 2014, he may be able to hold that lead. I associate at lot of things with the Open Championship – Jean van de Velde, waking up at 3am to watch, dreary conditions, quiet galleries, random texts I send/receive that just read, “FESCUE’D” or “BURN’D”. I associate Fantasy points with Todd. He’s above average in every pertinent stat and continues to deliver week-after-week of consistent scores. He notched his first career win at the Byron Nelson in mid-May and hasn’t slowed at all. Todd has put together an impressive run featuring five Top 10s in six starts, with his only stumble being a T17 at the US Open. And really, it was just one round. The world’s 41st ranked player entered the weekend second to Kaymer, then fired a Saturday 79. He blew up in a Major, it happens. Despite being well out of contention, Todd carded a Sunday 69; it was reassuring to see him not pack it in. Of the 156 entrants, only Keegan Bradley, Kaymer and Todd finished with three rounds in the 60s. It’s possible I’m going to regret not taking Sergio Garcia or Jimmy Walker, but Todd has been so reliable I can’t pass on his production.