Golfers Brace for Birkdale and 146th Open Championship

Last 7 Major Winners have been 1st-Time Champs Leading into Open Championship at Birkdale

Article posted at osga.com.

It will be difficult to top last year’s head-to-head final round dual between Phil Mickelson (65) and the Open champion Henrik Stenson, who shot a final round 63 to win his first major championship at Royal Troon. Stenson finished at 20-under 264, the lowest 72-hole score ever in a major. Those two players separated themselves from the rest of the field by more than 10-strokes, and engaged in one of the great duels in major championship golf.

But the 146th Open at Royal Birkdale is sure to challenge the best players in the world and pars will be far more common than birdies. Birkdale is one of the 14 courses in the Open rotation, and the classic links course is situated on the golden links of the North West coast in the picturesque English coastal town of Southport. It plays to a par 70 at 7,156 yards, and many of the holes are set between the dunes with the winds making it a most difficult links challenge. How the course plays will be determined almost entirely by mother-nature, and the weather can always vary enormously during an English summer. The early weather forecast shows mid 60-degree temperatures, 15-20 MPH winds and a 40-60 percent chance of precipitation Friday through Sunday. The golf course is a strong test and considered one of the best on the rota with tougher driving holes to fairly flat fairways and greens. The course design gets universal praise with most everything in front of you to see (only one blind tee shot). However, the difficulty lies not only with the wind, but the tough bunkering that comes into play on every hole with changing hole directions. Birkdale is a ‘thinkers course’ for certain, and will test a players patience. The successful players will plan their way around the course while avoiding the bunkers and long rough.

1st and 2nd round tee times and pairings for #TheOpen.

It takes time and often a week or two for players less accustomed to playing links courses to acclimate themselves to this type of course and conditions. Players have to understand and get a feel for the different bounces and how much the ball releases or doesn’t release. Chipping is unique with more chip and runs, and wedge play and distance is varied with the different turf and humps and bumps encountered. Thus U.S. players making their way across the pond and not as experienced playing on these courses and conditions are at a clear disadvantage against many of their playing competitors.

The past two times that the Open Championship was hosted at Royal Birkdale, there were no players in the field who posted a total score of under par. Plus-3 (+3) was the winning score for Padraig Harrington in 2008, with the closest challengers +7 (Poulter) and +9 (Stenson, Norman). Perhaps Tiger Woods would have broke par, but he missed the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale following knee surgery. Recall Woods had dominated golf with 13 victories in 36 majors over a 9-year stretch before the era of dominance ended at Birkdale in 2008.

In the 36 majors leading up to this next Open at Royal Birkdale, six players have won multiple majors. Rory McIlroy has won four of them. No one else has won more than twice, while 22 players have each won once.

Royal Birkdale Clubhouse is the sightline from the 18th tee down the fairway

The current streak of 1st-time major champions is seven with Brooks Koepka (U.S. Open) and Sergio Garcia (Masters) winning the first two majors of 2017. The seven consecutive 1st-time major champions is the second-longest streak since 1934 when the Masters began.

The level of competition on the PGA Tour is extremely tight and tough, and it’s difficult to predict who will do well any particular week. And the Open Championship has surely had some huge surprises with 500-1 or greater long shot winners like Todd Hamilton (2004) and Ben Curtis (2003) hoisting the Claret Jug. And in 2011, Darren Clarke, at age 42 and greater than 200-1 odds, won his first major title at the revamped Royal St. George’s (3 shots in front of runners-up Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson).

But no other links course in the current Open rotation has a better track record of rewarding major champions, and we’re likely to see more higher-ranked players contending at this year’s Open than others in the recent past. Only two of the eight British Open champions at Royal Birkdale had not previously won a major.

Here are the leading contenders with power rankings and odds to win from BookMaker for this year’s 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. You can also compare and shop Golf Odds at other sports books including in Las Vegas at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

14-1    Dustin Johnson         20-1    Justin Rose                 32-1   Paul Casey

14-1    Rory McIlroy            22-1    Hideki Matsuyama        35-1   Brooks Koepka

16-1    Jordan Spieth           22-1    Tommy Fleetwood       45-1   Phil Mickelson

16-1    Sergio Garcia           22-1    Henrik Stenson            45-1   Louis Oosthuizen

16-1    Jon Rahm                30-1    Adam Scott                 45-1   Alex Noren

17-1    Ricky Fowler            30-1    Jason Day                   48-1   Justin Thomas

We’ll be back with player previews, profiles and potential winners and match-ups of interest as they are posted by the sports books in the days leading up to #TheOpen at Royal Birkdale. Follow along as we look to correctly identify another major winner, as we did at the U.S. Open on long shot Brooks Koepka, and fire for the flag and green with more match-up winners.

Author: FairwayJay

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay