The Open Championship Player Profiles

Open Preview at Royal Birkdale with Player Profiles, Stats and Evaluation

Article posted at osga.com.

Here are the leading Open contenders with odds to win from Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas for this year’s 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.  Follow the links and Twitter feeds for updates and more including from the Royal and Ancient RandA.

When firing at the match-ups and chipping a wedge for #TheOpen winner and fantasy draft prospects, a key angle to isolate is accurate strikers from the tee. Scrambling stats are also significant, knowing that in the 2008 Open at Birkdale (poor, windy weather), each of the top-6 finishers ranked top-30 in scrambling. Weather and wind conditions were disruptive in the 2008 Open, and that’s always a factor during an English summer.

So patience, experience and driving the ball accurately off the tee are key ingredients at #TheOpen. Bad-break bounces are common at links golf, and Birkdale does have some easier second shots that some of the other tougher rota courses, but players still have to avoid the surrounding dunes, long grasses, heather and of course the many punishing bunkers along the fairways and surrounding the greens.

Due to its unique set-up, the style of play and capricious weather, momentum is not necessarily rewarded at the Open compared to its major brethren. Keep that in mind as you evaluate some of the stats and information provided, and understand the unpredictability that can often surround the Open.

Here are other stats and category rankings of interest.

Ball Striking (BS), Strokes Gained Putting (SGP), Scrambling (SCR), and Bogey Avoidance (Bog Av).

Here is a chart with the top-10 players in these combined categories.

Rank/Player BS SGP SCR Bog Total
1 Ricky Fowler 10 3 9 9 31
2 Louis Oosthuizen 30 22 13 15 80
3 Daniel Berger 23 15 32 26 96
4 Dustin Johnson 14 53 31 5 103
5 Jon Rahm 18 60 20 10 108
6 Russel Henley 8 11 7 20 109
7 Charles Howell 68 45 3 1 117
8 Adam Hadwin 61 27 13 17 118
9 Kevin Kisner 27 39 18 34 118
10 Steve Stricker 52 20 29 18 119

The next group in total average are: Henley, Casey, Harmon, Perez, Steele, Haas, Spieth, Kuchar, Molinari, Snedeker, Laird, Schauffele, Garcia, Matsuyama, Lovemark, Thomas, Stanley, Simpson, Dufner, Horschel, Scott (33), Rose (34), Grace (37), Poulter (38), Reed (39), Mickelson (41).

Eight of the last 10 Open champions were aged 35 or over when they hoisted the Claret Jug. Four of the last six were 40 or over. American players with experience on the links have fared well in the last five years, as 15 of them have finished tied for 5th or higher in the last five Opens. The next closes are Australian’s with six top-5 finishes.

Six of the last seven Open champions have played in the Scottish Open the week before.

Player Profiles:

Tommy Fleetwood – Tommy boy made noise at the U.S. Open where he finished 4th, but the 26-year-old won’t be nearly as overlooked at Royal Birkdale after rattling off three other top-10s in his last four events. His iron game and recent hot putting have fueled his game, and Fleetwoo is now ranked No. 14 in the world and No. 1 on the European Tour, where he has two wins this year. He’ll be a father for the first time in October, and things are clearly on the upswing after a poor dip in form started in 2015 when he tried to change his golf swing. Patience and practice has paid off for the local boy, who is now a world class player and getting many headlines leading up to the Open at Birkdale. He may play well, but plenty more pressure for him this week. We’re not calling for him to raise the Claret Jug, but should he succeed he’ll become the first Englishman to win an Open in England since Tony Jacklin in 1969 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Ricky Fowler – Still shooting for his first major title, but playing very well and in solid form with a T-3 in Quicken Loans, and T-11 and T-5 in first two majors of the year. Ranks No. 1 in combined categories above, and is one of the top choices to continue first-time major winner streak. He’s gained enough support in the market to be favored over both Spieth and Dustin Johnson in match-ups (-133). Won’t recommend laying price.

Sergio Garcia – The Open has always been the major best suited for Sergio, and he’s had 10 top-10s in the Open Championship including top-6 in each of the last three Opens (T2 in 2014). The Spaniard enters with a strong game and plenty of confidence after winning his first major at the Masters. He lost in a heartbreaking playoff at Carnoustie in 2007 when we pegged him as a winner at 30-1, and was T51 at Birkdale in 2008. Garcia is in strong form and has the iron game, ball striking, wedge and bunker play to succeed again this week at Royal Birkdale. He’s getting married next week, his confidence and game are strong, and he’s well-suited for the Open. Major contender.

Dustin Johnson – The World No. 1 was playing the best of any player heading into the Masters before he withdrew. He then missed the cut at both the Memorial and U.S. Open, which followed the birth of his second child. He leads the Tour in strokes gained: Tee-to-Green and Greens in Regulation percentage. More importantly, he’s played well enough in the Open with top-15 finishes in 5 of 7 Open championships.

Brooks Koepka – He delivered us a great U.S. Open winner at 35-1 and a top match-up play winner in our U.S. Open Player Profiles and Preview. Now the former European Tour player takes to the links, and he’s actually getting limited respect at greater than 35-1 to win the Open. Koepka combines power with precision as he ranks top-15 on Tour in putting average. He’ll have to cut back some selectively this week and avoid the bunkers and hazards.

Hideki Matsuyama – Finished 2016 in sensational style with four victories and a 2nd in five worldwide events. Strong play continued this year defending title in Phoenix. Added T2 at U.S. Open and has moved up to No. 2 in the World, but still looking for his first major title. Strong ball striker finished well to place 2nd at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Ranks top-10 in strokes gained: Tee-to-Green and enters the Open in solid form having also finished 14th last time out at the Irish Open. Four Open appearances with a best T6 in 2013, Matsuyama has been on fast track since joining Tour in 2013, and he has overall game, iron play (top-10 GIR) in wind and mental makeup to succeed if he can putt well-enough (181st in strokes gained: putting) on the somewhat slower and flatter greens.

Rory McIlroy – No longer the most dangerous player in the field at this year’s Open, McIlroy missed his third cut in last four events at last week’s Irish Open. McIlroy is an Open champion in 2014 at Royal Liverpool, but he enters this year’s championship at Royal Birkdale in poor form and fitness issues. He’s managing the load at less than 100 percent, and even said he was stiff after hitting practice balls for an hour and a half a few days ago after his poor performance at Portstewart. McIlroy’s tee-to-green game makes him a favorite to many fans, but sharp bettors won’t fall for the trap or poor odds to win or play well. The humps and bumps with an approach shot even a few feet off can make even the game’s best players be punished. McIllroy has been a play-on for us in more recent Majors, but not this one.

Jon Rahm…The Spaniard won the Irish Open last week at Portstewart in Northern Ireland for his 2nd win of the season and 7th top-5. But he did so despite having an unreliable driver, and continued unpredictability off the tee will land him in more longer rough and fiendishly fairway bunkers. Rahm is No. 8 in the world after posting an amazing 24-under par winning score at the Portstewart.  He did miss the cut at the U.S. Open, but the PGA Tour rookie will still be a popular pick in fantasy drafts and win pools alike and has the stat profile and ability to overpower Royal Birkdale. Unfortunately, that’s not what wins most Open Championships, and Rahm will have to reel in his temperament and drive it considerably better to contend or win. We’re not betting on it.

Justin Rose – It’s been nearly 20 years since Justin Rose finished T-4 at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998, and the Englishman has carved out a solid PGA Tour career but is still looking for a breakthrough Open win to match his one major U.S. Open title from 2013. Rose had one arm in the Green Jacket at this year’s Masters before slipping off the jacket and handing it to Sergio in a playoff for Garcia’s first major win. Rose tied for 70th at the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale, but is playing well and enters off a T-4 in the Irish Open.

Adam Scott – the Aussie’s form of late has been a bit mixed with a missed cut at the U.S. Open tough to swallow. He was up and down at the Irish Open last week shooting 78 on Saturday and 68 Sunday, but Scott has played well in the Open with four consecutive top-10 finishes with his long, anchored putter before T43 last year without it. Recall Scott was dreaming about hoisting the Claret Jug a little too early in 2012 when he collapsed and blew a 4-stroke lead with four holes to play on a wind-swept Sunday afternoon at Royal St. Lytham & St. Annes. Scott is a strong ball-striker and his stat profile is solid, along with his Open record and ability to play in the wind.

Jordan Spieth – Texas native is a solid wind player, Spieth closed with a 69 on the toughest day at Erin Hills in the U.S. Open where he finished T35.  Has since won the Travelers, and leads the Tour in strokes gained: ATG. Spieth won the first two Majors in 2015, and then nearly won again at St. Andrews before settling for 4th. He can play strategically and is smart. Combined with premium putting and a creative touch around the green makes him a strong U.S. challenger.

Contending favorites of most interest: Garcia, Scott, Matsuyama.

Match-ups: Rose (+110) over McIlroy, Scott (-130) over Day, Scott (+110) over Stenson

Fades

Jason Day – He’s made the cut in all six of his Open starts, including T-4 at St. Andrew’s in 2015 just a shot behind the playoff. But Day has struggled htis year and his form is frustrating for himself and his betting backers having missed the cut in his last two events including a terrible showing at the U.S. Open. His ball flight and lack of form suggests a less than strong performance at Birkdale.

Henrik Stenson – The defending Open champion missed the cut in both majors this season, and says his long game has been a real issue for him. Lacking the time to practice and work on improving key parts of your game is difficult when you’re trying to perform. Stenson is likely to battle himself again this week and especially if the wind becomes a bigger factor where ball control and trajectory become more paramount.

Bubba Watson – Bubba has continued to be bad. T44 best finish last four tournaments with two missed cuts. Poor GIR, scoring and accuracy and weather issues will compound problems this week.

Best wishes as you find the fairways, shoot for the green and avoid the hazards at the Open Championship.

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