Fantasy Golf Picks: The Open Championship Sleepers & Strategy
The Open Championship
Defending Champ: Rory McIlroy
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Open Championship Preview
Avast, me hearties! The Open Championship’s 144th incarnation comes to us from crowd-pleasing St. Andrews; the 29th time the Old Course has hosted The Open. YARRRRRRRR!!!!!!! Wait, that’s pirate, not Scottish. Meh. Basically the same thing.
The clash of the last four Major winners - Rory McIlroy vs Jordan Spieth - we were gleefully mapping out in our head movies was snatched from our grubby claws last week when Rory ruptured his ankle playing soccer. McIlroy withdrew last Wednesday, becoming the first reigning Major champion not to be able to defend his title since Payne Stewart in 2000. It’s a giant bummer, however if it leads to the abolition of soccer, I feel like it was worth it. Chris Kirk had to withdraw as well. He broke his hand playing with his kids. Which brings me to my second point: Children are the devil.
Open Championship Key Skills
It’s difficult to pinpoint any statistic, beyond Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, that will prove predictive. There are just too many variables at St. Andrews. Mainly, it’s the weather. Wind gusts and sideways rain are the Open Championship’s calling card. It’d be fine if we could simply look at the forecast and identify the doomed tee times, but it doesn’t work that way. You could be standing on an Open tee box a moment before the tournament starts, and it may not help in the slightest. It’s weather, the only thing more unpredictable than golf, especially when it’s influenced by the North Sea.
Now, if you think you can gain a tee spilt advantage based on the forecast, go for it; it’s a worthy strategy that can shift the odds in your favor. However if the problematic conditions don’t hit when you anticipate, don’t sit there trout faced in amazement that a meteorologist let you down, once again. That’s why I’ll be taking players who are adept at adapting to conditions instead of isolating specific tee times. It increases your margin of error, plus, leads you towards the more highly skilled players, and pedigree has been a solid indicator of past champions at the Old Course.
Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis didn’t hoist the Claret Jug at St. Andrews. No, that action is reserved for the greats of the game: Tiger Woods (x2), Jack Nicklaus (x2), Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo have won six of the last eight Opens at the Home of Golf. The missing pair of champs over that span? John Daly (1995)—two-time Major winner John Daly—and Louis Oosthuizen (2010), who parlayed a low opening round with a favorable early Friday tee time and coasted to victory with flawless play over the weekend. Neither Daly nor Oosthuizen is an all-time great, but both were highly ranked players entering the event. It’s not as if their victories initiated the same reaction as the crowd opening night at Springtime for Hitler. So, before you get cute and try to nail a long shot, just remember, the names that are supposed to be on the Sunday leaderboard generally populate the Sunday leaderboard after the 72nd hole at St. Andrews.
In the DraftKings Open Championship Millionaire Maker, it’s a different story, the salary cap will force you into taking some longer odds players, but in standard Fantasy golf (and for bettors) don’t overthink this field. Load up on the big names that gain a lot strokes tee-to-green and don’t lack distance off the tee. It’s not so much about the actual distance that assists scoring at St. Andrews, it’s the malleability it affords players to club down on the shorter holes and get to the spot they need to hit their approach for the desired length while keeping clear of fescue and navigating past the 112 bunkers.
Open Championship Picks
Sergio Garcia & Henrik Stenson - Poor Sergio Garcia, he’s quickly becoming a forgotten man in an era with so many youthful upstarts. Now’s not the time to push Sergio from your Fantasy squad, though. The Spaniard’s likely to be under-owned due to a combination of lackluster recent form and the prevailing sentiment he’s a choker, but his Open Championship history earns him a spot in the lineup. Sergio’s made nine of ten Open cuts overall, posting T25s four of the past five years, finishing T14 and T5 at St. Andrews in 2010 and 2005. Pile on his impressive Tee-to-Green numbers (4th), driving distance (25th) and affinity for lag putting, seventh in putts from beyond 25-feet, sixth in approach putting, and you have the makings of a Major that’s been a long time coming. 39-year-old Henrik Stenson is in a similar situation to Sergio: If he doesn’t win a Major soon, it’s likely never going to happen, and St. Andrews may be his best opportunity. The Swede finished in tie for third in the 2010 Open, yet wasn’t all that impressive. Stenson only played the eight Par 5s -2 and only converted 16-percent of his birdie opportunities on Par 4s (T41 for the week). Despite the lousy conversion rate, Stenson ended the The Open -6 on the Par 4s, third in the field. Fast-forward to 2015 and the world’s No. 7 player should be able to get a few more of those birdie chances to drop. Stenson currently sits 15th in SG: Putting for the season, along with elite grades in total driving (2nd), ball striking (1st), SG: T2G (7th), GIR (1st), and scrambling from the rough (1st). Combine his gaudy stats with his consistent Major performance - hasn’t missed a cut in a Major since 2011 Masters - and you have the top, non-Spieth favorite to win.
A-List Alternates: J.B. Holmes & Brooks Koepka
Jordan Spieth & Paul Casey - Jordan Spieth’s the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to notch four wins before The Open. He’s already won the first two Majors of the season, and has the best form and stats of any player. Oh, he’s the massive betting favorite too. Just take Spieth (aka 2000 Tiger; 2000 Open Championship winner at St. Andrews) and rest easy. With six T10s in 12 starts since February, Paul Casey’s now up to No. 24 in the world rankings, yet no one’s seemed to notice. Our gain. The Brit played in the final pairing with Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 before settling for a bronze medal after a final round 75, and hadn’t seen his game at that type of top tier form again… until now. Casey’s Top 10 in this field gaining strokes tee-to-green, along with scoring average, greens in regulation, ball striking, and overall proximity. Granted, he’s not the best putting on Tour (140th), but putting stats haven’t proven to be predictive for perforce on these giant St. Andrews greens. What matters is hot putting and lag putting. While predicting whose flat stick is going to get hot for four rounds is a fool’s errand, lag putting is a skill, a very particular one, and one that Casey possesses. Like Sergio, Casey grades highly in putting from outside 25-feet (13th) and approach putting (35th).
Dustin Johnson & Hideki Matsyuama - Dustin Johnson hasn’t been seen since his devastating three-jack at Chambers Bay. I’m fairly certain he’ll pop up at St. Andrews, though, likely near the top of the leaderboard. Despite our most recent memory of DJ, he owns the perfect skill set to triumph on this layout. His massive length off the tee (1st) just makes the course so much easier, and if conditions start getting out of control, DJ’s distance allows him to club down, grab an iron and keep the ball low out of the wind without sacrificing close to as much distance as the majority of the field - his 2011 Royal St. George’s game plan. He’ll always have the (well-deserved) stigma for blowing it late, but in Fantasy golf, not everyone on your team needs to win, just place highly, and DJ’s finished worse than T14 once at the Open Championship since 2010 (T32 in 2013). The final spot came down to Hideki Matsyuama and Rickie Fowler, and since Rickie is fresh off a Scottish Open victory, I’m assuming he’s going to be owned on almost every team, so I’ll avoid him for similar (potentially even better) option in Matsyuama. Statistically, the world’s No. 14 player dominates from SG: T2G to ball striking to total birdie or better percentage, but there’s one number that matters more than others: Par 4 Efficiency from 350-400 yards. There are seven Par 4s on the Old Course from that distance, and Hideki has scored the fifth best of any player from that distance. As the kicker, Matusyama and Jimmy Walker (11th), are the only two that rate highly in driving distance.
B-List Alternates: Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker, Billy Horscehl and Hunter Mahan
Patrick Reed & Louis Oosthuizen - It’s all about feel with Patrick Reed. He once sounded off about being a “top five player in the world,” and since he only sits No. 16 in the world rankings, that makes him kind of a liar. Oh, Reed has also been accused of cheating on the course and stealing watches. So it’s a good thing I love villains; Reed is essentially the Razor Ramon of golf, but with only one stupid necklace. Reed should amend his “Top 5” statement to a “Top 5 player in the world… when he’s on.” You know when Rory gets locked in and he hits every approach to 5-feet? Reed does that too, just not as often. St. Andrews is a perfect spot, with somewhat damp conditions, to start taking fire at the pins. He ran out of gas at Chambers Bay, it won’t happen again at The Open. I’m still mad at Louis Oosthuizen for dominating the weekend at the US Open. I’ve had the defending St. Andrews champion circled to use in this spot all year, unfortunately, because of the high profile exposure he received a few weeks ago, everyone is on him now too. Hopefully his cold streak since Chambers Bay has the masses concerned about his form, because I’m taking him either way. The South African elevates his game in large scale events (Six straight cuts in Majors), and has the core skills (Distance + Tee-to-Green + Sand + Ball Striking) that suit the Old Course perfectly.
C-List Alternates: Charl Schwartzel & Shane Lowry
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