When it comes to the Open Championship, so much depends on the weather. And not just the overall weather—I’m talking about the weather at any given moment.
I still haven’t forgotten the 2014 tournament, when the players who went out on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon had clear, beautiful skies, while those who went out on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning faced the brutal elements of wind and rain in both rounds. By the time the second round had ended, 17 of the top 20 players came from the former group (including the eventual winner), and the three exceptions were at the lower end.
That variability is what makes the Open the most difficult of the majors to pick, and early forecasts are calling for rain at Royal Portrush. That said, we can learn something from the history of the Open Championship itself, where since 1995, American golfers have won 14 of the last 25 instalments. Additionally, eight of those 14 American wins came from golfers who had won a major before taking the Claret Jug.
One final point: Only twice in that stretch has America been shut out of the title for longer than a year.
Why am I telling you all this? Because, by the numbers, and by the fact that Francesco Molinari is the defending champion, there’s an excellent chance that this year’s winner will be an American who has already won a major.
Of course, that’s still a relatively big group, and some picks are better than others—don’t go with Bubba Watson, or Keegan Bradley, or Patrick Reed, or Zach Johnson, or Justin Thomas. Form matters. And for heaven’s sake don’t pick the ice-cold Phil Mickelson.
But once you get past the obvious scratch-offs, a few prime contenders emerge. Let’s look at them one-by-one:
This is, of course, the great temptation. A year ago, I would have told you to resist, since his days of winning majors were over. And a year ago, I would have been very wrong. He won the Masters this year, and though he hasn’t played very often since, he’s done well enough to inspire some hope that he’ll hoist his fourth Claret Jug. Still, he’s on the low end of desirable American picks, simply for the fact that he hasn’t played in a month and we don’t really know if he’s healthy or capable or putting together the very low rounds needed to win in Northern Ireland.
What’s left to say? If he’s not winning majors these days, he’s coming close, and the Open Championship is basically his last frontier—the only one where he hasn’t finished, at worst, second. I don’t care about the course, or the conditions, or the circumstances, and I don’t even care if he’s playing on a broken leg—when Koepka’s in the field at a major, you pick him.
Call this the gut pick—I’ve felt for a long time that Spieth’s season is going to end with a triumph that you wouldn’t necessarily predict from his current form, and, well, this is the last chance. But despite the fact that he missed the cut in his last event and was mediocre at the U.S. Open, the three top tens that directly preceded that stumble—including a T-3 at the PGA—tell me that the prospect isn’t as crazy as it looks. Paddy Power is paying ten places, and if you want to capitalize on some longer odds, Spieth is your man.
Second at the PGA, second at the Masters, and playing as well as he always plays. Also, do you believe in universal parallels? Well, Simona Halep, who struggled for years at grand slams and collapsed under pressure, just won Wimbledon for her second slam after breaking through at the French last year. Could DJ also win the U.K. major in his second sport to win his richly deserved second? The universe says yes.
You know what? Ol’ Webb is on form, and though he probably won’t win, with massive odds against he’s a terrific longshot to finish near the top.
Now then, let’s go beyond the “American major champions” formula and take a quick peak at three other golfers I really like to do some damage this weekend:
Do you realize he has seven top-tens already this year? If you’re looking for a “this year’s Molinari” type guy, look no further.
I love this guy, and he loves…big tournaments. He always seems to play above his already high standard in the huge events, and I see him as ready to make a charge in a major. Note that he finished 3rd at the PGA and 12th at the U.S. Open already this year.
This is your long, long, long, longshot. Coming off two very solid weeks in America, I think he could stun some people in his first Open since 2013. And oh wait…he’s an American former major winner too! Kismet!