Don’t tell my American friends and colleagues, but the Open Championship is my favorite major of the lot. The links, the weather, the history, the pot bunkers, the bumps, the runs, the muted color scheme that runs from gray to flax to straw but never brighter…it’s all terrific.
Unlike Augusta, it has just the right amount of snooty tradition. Unlike the U.S. Open, it has just the right amount of infuriating difficulty. Unlike the PGA Championship…well, it’s not desperately seeking an identity. I love the Open so much that I’m actually swallowing my pride and calling it “The Open” instead of the “British Open,” even though I really think it should be called the British Open. In short, there’s a natural magic to this event of the kind that can only be manufactured elsewhere.
Just as they did at the U.S. Open, Paddy Power is paying ten places, and as a golf writer and fantasy obsessive, there is nobody better than yours truly to serve as your spirit guide through the wilderness of chance. Here are my five picks, with a dark horse I love thrown in at the end.
Dustin Johnson, 10/1
He is both the odds-on favorite and my personal choice as the man who will hoist Ye Olde Claret Jug.
He’s been the best player in golf this season, and though he suffered some late disappointment at the U.S. Open in falling to Koepka, he’s still the man you expect to be in the mix whenever you have the best players in the world together. Also, players like Brandt Snedeker are already hitting 427-yard drives at a baked-out Carnoustie.
There’s a chance DJ could become the first person to drive the green on a par-5 with a pitching wedge. If the “very light wind” forecast holds true, history be damned—we are going to see some lowwww scores, and DJ should lead the pack.
Justin Thomas, 20/1
The secret to picking a winner in majors is knowing which of the so-called “favorites” are extremely unlikely to do the job, either because they lack the form or they’ve shown that they don’t handle pressure very well. You can always get burned, of course—there’s a first time for every major winner—but in general you’re the safest when you avoid those pretenders.
Thomas, on one hand, may strike some as a little unlikely. He won the PGA Championship last year, and we’ve all seen first-time champions endure a bit of a hangover. But it’s important to remember he won the Honda in February and nearly won the WGC-Mexico, so the game is still there.
He’s been in Europe for the past couple weeks, fared well at the French Open (T-8), and will be intimately familiar with Carnoustie by the time he tees off Thursday. It feels like the kind of tournament where, if he gets hot, he could crush the field.
Jon Rahm, 20/1
This one is purely a form-plus-attitude pick—Rahm is off back-to-back top-5 finishes at the French Open and Irish Open, and only an opening-round 74 at the Irish kept him from the winner’s circle.
We already know he’s a consummate winner (he’s won on both tours this year, and has five titles to his name at age 23), and unlike some others in the field, there’s zero doubt in any rational person’s mind that he’s going to win a major, and soon. When you combine the raw red rage he must feel at bombing out of the U.S. Open a month ago, I think Rahm will be a man on a mission.
After DJ, I see him as the second-most likely winner.
Francesco Molinari, 28/1
This is your “paying ten places” lock of the tournament. Everywhere he goes, the man’s on fire. Just check out his last five results in Europe and the U.S.: 1, 2, 25, 1, 2.
That’s really all you need to see, right? Well, probably—the one catch here is that Francesco’s 25th-place finish came at the U.S. Open, and of course he’s never won a major. But on a European course, with this form, I really can’t see him finishing outside the top ten.
Bubba Watson, 70/1
Use with caution! Normally I would never tell you to pick Bubba in any event outside the United States, because he is a fundamentalist American who reacts to being in places like France the way you or I might act if we were deposited on the surface of the moon.
That said, 70/1? Other than Dustin Johnson, this guy has been the best player in the universe in 2018! He’s won in the U.S. a PGA Tour-leading three times (most recently three weeks ago), he’s third on the FedExCup list, and he’s missed two cuts in 17 attempts. He should be, at worst, somewhere around 25/1.
At these odds, he’s a terrific value. Still, I cannot guarantee that he won’t try to order chips at some restaurant, freak out when he gets french fries, and spend the rest of the week in a deep sulk.
THE DARK HORSE: Alexander Bjork, 125/1
Bjork won the China Open back in April, but it’s his form in the last three weeks that has piqued my interest, and it’s also the reason I added him to my fantasy team this week as I chase a league title. The 28-year-old has essentially come out of nowhere to have a pretty amazing year, and after a slight dip following his Chinese win, he’s gone 8/14/19 in his last three tournaments. More than that, he’s shown that he can go really, really low.
Granted, the field he’ll face at Carnoustie is far tougher than his last three stops on the European Tour—the big bad Americans are in town—but I just have a feeling he’s going to put up a couple big rounds, avoid the bad one, and end up somewhere near the top five.
One last piece of advice: Do not be suckered into Spieth/Tiger/McIlroy. Nobody wins this tournament when they’ve lost their form, because a comeback very rarely starts at a major. Oh, and don’t pick Phil either—he’s in a weird self-sabotaging negative attention spiral, and he’s more likely to throw a ball out of a bunker to prove some academic point than he is to win the jug. Be smart!
Odds correct at time of posting.