The third major of 2016 has arrived, the 145th Open Championship from Royal Troon in Scotland. And like most Open Championships, I have absolutely positively zero idea who will win. If the wind blows – and that's what this championship usually does and is predicted – it brings everyone into play, especially when your chances of winning may purely be decided by your tee time. It's horrible – everyone agrees it's not a righteous way to decide a champion, but it's the deal this week. Here's our stats column.
So We Start with The Weather
It's Scotland, it can change every five minutes – which makes it hard to predict – but here's the forecast: coming into the championship, it's rained. A lot. You're going to see a green golf course and the rough is up. And it's not super firm. Competition days are predicted to be more of the same: chance of rain everyday, temperatures in the high 50s-low 60s and fairly breezy. Not crazy windy. But breezy. But then again it's Scotland. So it can change at any moment.
What Matters at Troon?
Let's ask Colin Montgomerie, who happens to be a member there: "The greens are particularly small, therefore you've got to have the ball in the fairway to control the iron shots from there on in. You look at the great drivers of the golf ball to do well here. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day ... to think who's your winner, you've got to [factor] them in to have a good chance." (Source: Golf Channel)
How the Best Are Playing
Dustin Johnson is obviously the best player on the planet now, winning the U.S. Open and his next start at Bridgestone after Jason Day collapsed on the back nine. If he can keep hitting that power fade he has to be the prohibitive favorite this week, as the biggest issue at a place like Troon is keeping it out of the fescue and pot bunkers. In Akron he hit 57 percent of his fairways on a tight tree-lined course – that was T4 for the week – and ranked first in strokes gained-off the tee and eighth in strokes gained-putting. I really like him this week if he gets off to a good start and is hitting that baby fade nicely.
Jason Day's very un-Day like collapse at Firestone put a damper on his stout recent run and exposed the fact that he straight up didn't hit the ball very well at all. In a field of about 60 he ranked 26th in strokes gained-off the tee and 36th in strokes gained-approach to the green. His superb short game had him ranked first in strokes gained-around the green but that won't save you at a place like Royal Troon. I know he's a major champion. I know he's won a bunch this year. But I'm wary of picking Day this week and wouldn't look down on any of you if you did as well.
Rory McIlroy has been inconsistent since his Irish Open victory, tying for fourth at Memorial, missing the cut at Oakmont and then finishing third at the French Open two weeks ago. He was hurt there by weekend rounds of 70-71, compared to winner Thongchai Jaidee, for example, who went 68-68.
Jordan Spieth tied for third at Firestone and if it wasn't for the 16th hole, he may have won the darn event. For the week he ranked 20th in strokes gained-off the tee, 39th in strokes gained-approach to the green and first in strokes gained-putting. Improve a bit on the first two stats and 2016 may be the time Spieth gets past last year's Open disappointment. One thing in his favor is tough conditions. His thinking-through-every-shot pays off here.
The Mysterious European
Every year at the Open Championship someone who plays the European Tour regularly sneaks up on the leaderboard and surprises American fans. Who might that be? Maybe it's last week's winner Alex Noren. Another name is Matthew Fitzpatrick, my U.S. Open sleeper. Noren, en route to victory at the Scottish Open, ranked third in driving accuracy and 18th in putts per GIR. Those stats will help him this week. If you want a sleeper, this could be it.
Reading this story turned me immediately off of Charl Schwartzel. He won in Tampa earlier this year but switched to PXG equipment this week. Right before a major! Ranked fourth in strokes gained-approach to the green and ninth in strokes gained-tee to green on the PGA Tour this season, it's never good to switch before a major and, thus, he's a no go for me this week.
Sleeper: Lee Westwood – If it wasn't for a poor front nine Sunday at Oakmont, Westwood might have won his first major, and I like how his game is coming around in 2016. His U.S. Open stats are skewed because of the 80, but he was above average for the week in fairways hit a key stat this week. Do that again and he could be in position Sunday to get his first major win.
Winner: Dustin Johnson. Enough said.
Greg Chalmers Note
Golf is a really weird game. Let me quickly point out reason 4,524 as to what makes fantasy golf so incredibly frustrating: Greg Chalmers' win at the Barracuda Championship two weeks ago.
While it took 386 starts for him to get his first PGA Tour win, he was a known quantity to golf diehards and those back home in Australia. So the mere fact that Chalmers won is not a shocker. In fact, Billy Hurley III's win at the Quicken Loans National was arguably more of a surprise.
But the fact that Chalmers won when he did, considering recent form, is what caught many, including him, off guard. Consider his season coming in: zero top-10s and one top-25 in six starts on PGA Tour (including zero made cuts in 2016). He had spent most of the season on the Web.com Tour where he had two top-10s in nine starts but none since May. So it's not like his form was sharp.
And while the Web.com Tour doesn't have ShotLink, the statistical picture was pretty clear, too, and it wasn't pretty: he ranked 114th in driving distance, 94th in driving accuracy, 62nd in greens in regulation and 27th in putting. Now consider the strokes gained rankings for Barracuda. Off the tee: he gained 3.888 strokes on the field for the week (ranked sixth). Around the green: 3.636 (10th), and putting, where he ranked first: a whopping 10.500. And to top it all off he was T20 in that problem area of greens in regulation.
So just when you think you have it all figured out, golf strikes again.
Players to watch out for there: Camilo Villegas (who says how he plays this week will be the deciding factor on if he represents Colombia in the Olympics), Kyle Reifers, David Toms, Jason Bohn, Will Wilcox, Graham DeLaet and Boo Weekley.
One Last Open Note:
As Golf News Net's Ryan Ballengee pointed out on my radio show this week, the back nine is significantly harder than the front nine at Royal Troon. Among those who lead the PGA Tour in back nine scoring this season: Spieth, Adam Scott, Day, Dustin and Matt Kuchar. That could be something to watch this week.