Course: Royal Birkdale
Yardage: 7,156 – Par 70
Overview: At the beginning of the year, Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm had similar expectations. They both had just turned pro after being two of the best amateurs in the world. Rahm won a tournament early, and continued to perform with numerous Top 10 finishes week after week, while DeChambeau started to miss cuts far too frequently. Now, Rahm has taken a slight step back as of late, and DeChambeau has evened the score at one win apiece. Rahm is still looking like the better player right now, but it is still extremely early in their careers. Get used to those two guys joining the mix with the other amazing 20-somethings for the next decade or two.
The Top 50 are all teeing it up this week, along with a long list of qualifiers who got in in different ways, and the past six Open Champions, which reads as follows: Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Zach Johnson, and Henrik Stenson. The only golfer who was under the age of 39 for their victory in that group is McIlroy. Everyone is favoring the players over the age of 35 this week. I’m not going to tell you any different, but if you do go with some youngsters, you want to go with the ones who defy the odds like McIlroy or Spieth.
The best players in the world will gather at Royal Birkdale for the original Open Golf Championship. A tournament being dubbed as “the old man’s tournament” has seen most of its past winners hovering around the 40 mark, with Rory McIlroy as the one exception. Royal Birkdale is a par 70 track that measures out to 7,156 yards. This is a short track for this breed of golfer. In fact, it’s short enough that Phil Mickelson (among others) is going to play the week without a driver. Regardless of whether players use a driver or not, this is a narrow track that will punish if drives aren’t on the correct line.
That makes driving accuracy a key stat for players this week. Winds will be blowing off the Irish Sea causing havoc, and favor the fortunate golfers who teed off at the calmest times. Strong numbers in Strokes gained: approach and Par 4 scoring are the stats that players who are in contention will stay there. Being able to control approach shots in the wind and tame the 48 par 4s that players will face is the way to stay in it this week. This course has fescue and pot bunkers that guarantee you’ll make bogey, so I value scrambling and being able to save par or bogey. Experience plays big in these tournaments; the guys who plod along and make slews of pars and only one or two bogeys fare well; so, look at British Open history as another stat to consider when picking your lineup.
2012: Ernie Els
2013: Phil Mickelson
2014: Rory McIlroy
2015: Zach Johnson
2016: Henrik Sten
DFS Fantasy Golf Picks for The Open
Sergio Garcia ($10,600) – For the third straight major, I’m going to go with Garcia in my lineup. He’s made for British Opens. He hits accurately off the tee (30th on Tour) and gains a ton of strokes there (2nd), is obviously a great ball striker, and can play in any type of conditions at a very high level. You should hope that it rains and gusts all week if you have Garcia in your lineup, because while others will falter, Sergio will turn it up and mud his way to the top. Garcia is also a very good scrambler (18th); those amazing hands can turn some of the trickiest lies into tap-in pars.
Adam Scott ($8,500) Excluding the U.S Open, Adam Scott has played well as of late, with his worst finish in his last seven starts being 36th. Despite his greatest choke ever coming at a British Open, his game always seems to translate year after year. Scott gains a lot of strokes on the approach (15th), and while he isn’t the most accurate in terms of hitting fairways, Scott gains a lot of strokes off the tee (31st). Scott has been in the Top 10 in four of the last five years. He will be looking to add his second career major and avenge his worst pro moment, in which he blew a four shot lead with four holes to go in 2012.
Louis Oosthuizen ($8,300) Louis Oosthuizen introduced himself to the golf world in 2010, when he annihilated the field at St. Andrews. Interestingly, he hasn’t won another professional tournament since that major victory. It’d be right to think that this guy was due, especially with some of the close calls he’s had (losing in a playoff to Bubba at the Masters, another playoff loss to Zach Johnson at the Open in 2015, 2nd at the Players this year). Forget due or not due, Oosthuizen has turned into one of the best golfers in the world with little weakness in his game. He hasn’t finished lower than 48th in any event this season, and looks strong statistically for this course. He’s 33rd in Par 4 scoring, gains strokes on the approach (63rd), rolls it well (22nd in putting), and scrambles very well too (13th). Oosthuizen clearly was made for this event, evident in his great finishes in 2010 and 2015 (also a T19 in 2012).
Paul Casey ($8,100) Paul Casey has a track record like Oosthuizen’s this season – lots of high finishes, but no wins. Casey’s track record at the British Open is very checkered but ultimately, he usually makes the cut. He’s made eight of his last ten Open cuts with a T3 in 2010 and a T7 in 2008, the last time it was held at Royal Birkdale. Casey showed well the last time the tournament was held here; the stats say he’s due to at least repeat that performance. He’s accurate off the tee (33rd), even more accurate from the fairways (7th in SG: Approach), and seventh in scrambling. Casey has the game to win this event, but tends to make a triple bogey somewhere along the line. If he can avoid the dreaded hockey stick or snowman, he can contend this week.
Matt Kuchar ($7,200) Kuchar is the chalk this week, and my one token American pick. Plenty of Americans play well at this event, but the home-continent advantage always makes it a more Euro-skewed leaderboard. As I said, everyone is high on Kuchar this week. He has never won a major, but it is agreed that he will have a better chance in an event in which the scores are closer to the even par range. He’s right around that sweet spot, at age 39, in which the odds of winning the British Open go way up. Kuch is on fire right now, finishing 4, 16, 4, 12, and ninth in his last five events. He’s been doing it with solid Par 4 scoring (25th), and a smooth iron game. In tee to green, Kuch is one of the best (26th), and his experience should go a long way.
Andy Sullivan ($7,000) Andy Sullivan is the one pick of mine who plays full-time on the Euro Tour. He is younger than you’d like for this event, but he has a great track record in his only two starts at the open, with T30 and T12 finishes. He’s been playing very solid golf, similar to what Kuchar, Oosthuizen, and Casey have been doing on the PGA Tour. His worst finish since February is T-51, so he’s shown he can come out and play all four days of golf every week. Plug Sullivan in for a player who many Americans will pass over due to unfamiliarity.