The 2018 Open Championship is upon us, and it provides untold intrigue for both observers and punters.
As is often the case in modern Major golf, there’s no stand-out candidate for players and bettors to fear at Carnoustie this week. It’s as wide open as ever, and when you add a course that could play almost as tough as Shinnecock Hills did last month, yet another first time Major winner could be on the horizon.
Four of the last five winners had won in the five tournaments prior to The Open, with Jordan Spieth (2017) and Phil Mickelson (2013) winning the event before The Open. Zach Johnson (2015) didn’t win, but had three top 6s, so form is a strong indicator of who will contend.
The likes of Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and last year’s runner-up Matt Kuchar are available at high odds, and the nature of the event could very well see one of those out-of-favour stars regain some timely form to threaten the favourites.
Our picks consist of a fair few outside punts, but first we take a look at the course and the top end of the field.
Often dubbed ‘Car-nasty’, the Angus links course is rightly deemed to be the toughest on the Open course rota, even under normal circumstances.
A par 71 measuring 7,402 yards, the unusually dry weather this year sees the course play firmer than the players have ever seen it. With punitive rough, the field faces a brutal week in Scotland. Add in the expected wind, and the winning score could be over par for the first time since Royal Birkdale in 2008.
The greens are said to be well-watered however, and the R&A aren’t going to butcher the set-up like the USGA did for the sake of providing ‘the ultimate test’.
As for the fairways, their dryness could dramatically play into the favour of longer hitters – albeit this is a widespread prediction that didn’t materialise at the U.S. Open. Here though, players who aren’t renowned for their distance like Padraig Harrington and Brandt Snedeker have reported hitting 457 and 427 yard drives at the 18th hole this week.
Big-hitting Jon Rahm spoke of trying to put the bunkers out of play by just hitting past them rather than using accuracy. This does bring the shorter hitters into play, but those at the top of the driving charts could frequently be hitting short irons or even wedges into the greens.
One fact supporting the length theory can be seen in the Scottish Open at Gullane GC last week, where the likes of Rickie Fowler and Ryan Fox hit 430+ yard drives into the final hole.
Carnoustie is one of three courses that hosts the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, though it plays easier for that one round a year. The highly-fancied Tommy Fleetwood holds the course record at 63, set only last October.
Dustin Johnson (12/1 fav) – Hasn’t played since his disappointing weekend at Shinnecock Hills. Not that he needs to; Johnson is unplayable when on top form, as he was for the first 36 holes at the previous Major. His poor iron play saw his remarkable showing on the greens dry up though, as he was unable to fully replicate a Spieth-like performance over the four days. A worthy favourite, but better value to be had elsewhere.
Justin Rose (16/1) – The perennial contender emerged from his U.S. disappointment with a fine showing at the Scottish Open – a links event that he won in 2014. Far too good not to win a second Major, and this week presents as good a chance as any.
Rory McIlroy (20/1) – It’s not often you see Rory at 20’s, but it’s for good reason. Sometimes severe putting woes caught up with him at the Irish Open as they did at the BMW PGA. He was imperious from tee-to-green at Ballyliffin, but the greens are holding him back. It sounds a harsh suggestion, but he’s 7/2 to miss the cut.
Jordan Spieth (22/1) – His ever-drifting odds are indicative of his struggles. Was in much better form heading into his win last year, and we’re happy to avoid.
Tommy Fleetwood (22/1) – A 59th and a missed cut since his awesome weekend at the U.S. Open. Holds the course record and is certainly primed to contend again, but three MCs in his four Open attempts doesn’t bode well.
Jon Rahm (25/1) – Has the class and links experience (Irish Open 2017 win) to do well, but his fiery temperament got the better of him at a similarly tough links track in Shinnecock. Two wins this year, but genuine question marks.
Justin Thomas (25/1) – Played at the French Open (finishing 8th) rather than the more appropriate Scottish equivalent, but some fine form makes him a tempting prospect.
Brooks Koepka (25/1) – Brooks immediately followed his sensational retention of the U.S. Open title with a top 20 at the Travelers Championship. He has plenty of links experience having, unusually for an American, cut his teeth on the European Tour, including second place at the 2015 Alfred Dunhill.
Henrik Stenson (25/1) – like Johnson, the Swede, whose game looks tailor made to shine here, hasn’t played competitive golf in a month. His Open record is more encouraging than DJ’s though, and is a similarly class player in that he’ll be able to contend regardless of his prolonged break.
Rickie Fowler – 18/1
Likely the first time we’ve backed Fowler for a Major. Given his stellar record in those events, that’s probably an oversight on our part, but the affable American has always given off a ‘bridesmaid’ vibe. Tied for 6th last week, and was a winner of the Scottish Open in 2015, adding to his commendable Open record featuring a 2nd and a fifth.
His form this year is good, the highlight of which being a runner-up at the Masters. An envy-inducing game in every facet bodes well for a tough links test; 5th in scrambling, 15th in sand saves, 25th in greens-in-regulation, remarkable symbiosis in both driving distance and accuracy – take your pick.
Alex Noren – 33/1
Everyone and his dog are backing the superb Swede, and his odds have likely been slashed further by the time you read this, but a win in his last outing at a tough French Open layout coupled with superb 2018 form is hard to deny.
Noren has two top tens in his last four Open appearances, and some more strong links pedigree, with a 2016 Scottish Open win, third in 2012, and a further third place in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Some great all-round stats also bolster what seems to be a case growing stronger by the minute.
Ian Poulter – 66/1
A speculative choice, given that it’s the hit-and-miss Englishman. 2018 has been his best season in five years though, with a win at the Houston Open and four further top tens. Agonisingly finished runner up in the 2008 Open, and went 3rd (2013) and 9th (2012) in this event during his last spell of great golf. Poulter’s U.S. Open bid collapsed, but bar a disastrous Friday morning, he looked well up for the challenge.
His renewal in form, backed by consistent statistical returns through his game, make this a timely Major for ‘Mr. Ryder Cup’ to contend in.
Luke List – 125/1
This is the American’s first appearance at The Open, but he finished third in his very first Scottish Open last week. He’s a mammoth fifth in driving distance on the PGA Tour, but his poor accuracy is a concern.
Second at the Honda Classic and third at the RBC Heritage were followed by recent missed cuts, but a fine tee-to-green game is enough for us to have a stab.
Eric Van Rooyen – 250/1
The South African held a four shot lead after 54 holes of the Irish Open at Ballyliffin links two weeks ago. A poor final round saw him finish fourth, but it looked for so long to be a culmination of a fine, promising year. That could yet come to pass here, though backing him for a Top 10 finish (25/1 with Unibet) or Top South African (12/1) is a safer call.
Strong tee-to-green and greens-in-regulation stats.
Charley Hoffman – First Round Leader (100/1 in places)
Three top sixes in his last outings for the first round specialist. He hasn’t replicated this in The Open like he has in The Masters, but four round in the 60s last week is encouraging enough for us to once again go in on what’s now a Major tradition.